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A commitment to introduce rules to ensure fair referendums in Council of Europe member States

Motion for a resolution | Doc. 14299 | 26 April 2017

Lord George FOULKES, United Kingdom, SOC ; Lord Donald ANDERSON, United Kingdom, SOC ; Lord Richard BALFE, United Kingdom, EC ; Ms Eka BESELIA, Georgia, SOC ; Ms Sílvia Eloïsa BONET, Andorra, SOC ; Ms Lise CHRISTOFFERSEN, Norway, SOC ; Ms Tamar CHUGOSHVILI, Georgia, SOC ; Mr Geraint DAVIES, United Kingdom, SOC ; Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE, United Kingdom, EC ; Mr Nigel EVANS, United Kingdom, EC ; Ms Emine Nur GÜNAY, Turkey, EC ; Ms Sofio KATSARAVA, Georgia, SOC ; Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS, Portugal, EPP/CD ; Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER, United Kingdom, EC ; Mr Philippe MAHOUX, Belgium, SOC ; Mr Gordan MARAS, Croatia, SOC ; Sir Alan MEALE, United Kingdom, SOC ; Mr John PRESCOTT, United Kingdom, SOC ; Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, Austria, SOC ; Mr Paul SCHNABEL, Netherlands, ALDE ; Mr Nico SCHRIJVER, Netherlands, SOC ; Mr Adão SILVA, Portugal, EPP/CD ; Ms Tineke STRIK, Netherlands, SOC ; Ms Petra De SUTTER, Belgium, SOC ; Mr Mart van de VEN, Netherlands, ALDE

The number of referendums in Council of Europe member States has significantly increased in recent years. These have included votes on gay marriage in Ireland, the “Brexit” referendum in the United Kingdom, referendums on immigration in Switzerland and in Hungary, and the constitutional referendum organised by President Erdoğan in Turkey in April 2017.

In each case questions have been raised about the process of the referendum and the fairness of the outcome.

Against such a background, it is worth noting that there are no commonly agreed standards relating to the conduct of referendums and no clear definition of what constitutes a free, fair and legitimate referendum.

The Parliamentary Assembly should inquire into this matter and consider preparing a list of agreed criteria to ensure that referendums held in Council of Europe member States are fair, free and legitimate, including making recommendations on:

  • Registration: who is eligible to vote and where and how are they to be registered?
  • Voting: where should voting take place? Should displaced voters and voters living in the diaspora be entitled to vote – and if so, where?
  • How would a regulating authority (The Referendum Commission) be composed? Who would determine its membership?
  • Should referendums be subject to a special majority requirement, in recognition of the implications? Should the result stand if it is supported by less than 50 per cent. of eligible voters but by a majority of those voting?
  • Should there be limits on campaign spending, or should participants’ campaign contributions be capped? If so, how should this be enforced?
  • How should information be dealt with? Should all sides have equal broadcasting time? If so, how would this be enforced?