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Improving electoral processes in the Eastern Partnership countries

“Elections are the expression and cornerstone of democracy and they remain a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy to thrive”. This was the conclusion reached by some 80 participants attending the Parliamentary conference on implementation of the right to free elections in Eastern Partnership countries, organised by PACE in Paris on 4-5 June in co-operation with the French National Assembly and the Venice Commission.

They stressed that the right to free elections must be fully implemented in Europe and that the Council of Europe, with its various statutory bodies, played a central role in codifying electoral law, monitoring elections and helping states to improve their electoral processes.

Referring to the Council of Europe’s norms and standards for democratic elections and its monitoring mechanisms, the speakers identified the main challenges to be met in carrying out these obligations in order to improve the organisation of elections in Eastern Partnership countries through the implementation of good electoral practices, the goal being to improve electoral processes so as to ensure better democratic governance.

“But our democracies are going through a period of doubt and declining enthusiasm for democracy. Turn-out rates in elections are decreasing and democratic institutions are experiencing a crisis of confidence. It is vital to achieve progress in democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms in Europe. Otherwise, there will be no security or stability. This aspect is especially important for the six Eastern Partnership countries, whose democratic traditions have not yet taken firm root. To this end, co-operation and consultation between PACE and other Council of Europe bodies, the European Union and the OSCE are essential if the democratic institutions of these countries are to be strengthened”, they concluded.

This conference was the first of a series of parliamentary conferences supported by the Parliamentary Assembly and the EU-CoE Programmatic Co-operation Framework in the Eastern Partnership countries, whose beneficiaries are Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Belarus.

The conference participants were members of parliament, including opposition representatives, representatives of election administrations and NGOs actively involved in election monitoring. The conference was opened by Harlem Désir, Secretary of State for European Affairs for France, René Rouquet, Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Chairperson of the French Delegation to PACE, Jean-Claude Frécon, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, and Gianni Buquicchio, President of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe).

Other speakers included Jean-Charles Gardetto, former PACE member and Rapporteur on “Ensuring greater democracy in elections”, Giancarlo Defazio of the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission, Tamar Zhvania, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, and Nicolas Kaczorowski, Country Director in Tunisia of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), who acted as conference rapporteur.