Empowering Self-Reliant Electoral Processes in Europe Through Experience-Sharing
Furthering a country’s journey to self-reliance requires ensuring the security of democratic processes and creating an environment where foreign assistance is no longer necessary. An essential part of this journey is sharing experiences with counterparts in other countries and identifying common challenges, solutions and good practices. Each country is unique, but only through engagement with peers from other countries can election administrators, civil society activists, political party officials and journalists identify similarities and differences of their own country from those nearby, learning from the experiences of others to improve the electoral process.
“This training is good both as a starter to a profession and for experienced people too. It also gives an opportunity to create ties between different countries and institutions ... It was interesting to hear colleagues sharing information how elections are organized in their countries.”
– Program participant from Estonia
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) Regional Europe Office, established in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2014, is a crucial element of the IFES strategy to support the exchange of knowledge, skills and experience among European and Eurasian electoral stakeholders. The program’s goal is to empower self-reliance through cross-border learning, networking and increased capacity in political participation, government transparency and election administration, and programming to date has laid the foundation for future network-building and sustainable impact. Depending on the event, engaged stakeholders include members and staff from election management bodies (EMBs), judges and civil society activists. The main geographical focus is countries in the Eastern Partnership (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia). A large part of the Regional Europe Office’s success has been convening these stakeholders from a diverse geographical range, often overcoming historic political tensions.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, IFES is actively adapting its programming and pivoting from in-person workshops to online meetings and increased research initiatives. So far, IFES has successfully conducted three online webinars and the virtual launch meeting of a disinformation working group for EMBs in Europe and Eurasia. In March 2020, the webinar Slovak Parliamentary Elections in an Era of Disinformation: Post-Election Debrief was held in partnership with MEMO98, following a transition to a virtual format, and included a wide array of stakeholders, expert presentations and a robust discussion. IFES also initiated a webinar series on Administering Elections in Europe During A Pandemic, the first session of which was held in May 2020 and the second in June 2020. The Regional Europe Office has several additional responsive initiatives planned over the coming months and remains committed to supporting experience-sharing and sustainable development while protecting the safety of all stakeholders.
“Topics ... related to organizational skills and planning ... came to the fore in this period. Namely, at the time of the workshop, it was still not possible to assume that the COVID-19 pandemic would reach such proportions. At the workshop, I became more aware of how important it is to start planning on time and that the story of the crisis is realistic at all times. It broadened my horizons, which is exactly what is most visible in this challenging time.”
– Program participant from Montenegro
To date, IFES’ Regional Europe Office has hosted 28 events on topics ranging from electoral accessibility for persons with disabilities to civil society monitoring of the abuse of state resources and election dispute resolution. More than 750 people from 39 countries have participated in these events. In line with IFES’ commitment to gender equality, 47 percent¹ of the participants have been women, while women have on average made up 60 percent of the workshop facilitators.
Events held at IFES’ Regional Europe Office are designed to strengthen electoral leadership and stakeholders’ capacity to respond to evolving challenges to democratic advancement and reform. Disinformation and misinformation increasingly threaten electoral integrity and trust in the democratic process. IFES therefore convened a scene-setting Brainstorming Session with EMB representatives, leading experts from nongovernmental organizations and academic researchers on social media, disinformation and electoral integrity to identify best approaches for combating disinformation in the European electoral environment. This event led to the launch of the Europe and Eurasia Regional Election Management Body Working Group on Social Media, Disinformation and Electoral Integrity, which includes over 45 members from 13 countries. The working group will be a sustainable forum for election authorities to discuss pressing issues in combating disinformation and employing social media to protect and promote a transparent electoral process. While initially planned to take place in person in April, the launch was adapted to take place virtually in May, given the current pandemic.
IFES also recently hosted the Central and Eastern European Electoral Leadership Training for more than 30 leaders from EMBs across the region to build skills in leadership, independence, crisis response and ethics. The Regional Europe Office has also welcomed representatives from political and campaign finance oversight institutions in the Western Balkans for installments of the Political Finance Oversight Workshop, which strengthen their understanding of international good practices in effective oversight. The most recent iteration of the workshop took place online in June and delivered training to Moldova’s Central Election Commission, Georgia’s State Audit Office, representatives from Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission and Ukraine’s National Agency for Prevention of Corruption and Central Election Commission.
Outside of its office in Prague, the Regional Europe Office supports initiatives across the continent. A series of cybersecurity and election technology trainings are being held in partnership with Tallinn University of Technology’s Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance in Estonia to assist in protecting electoral processes from cyberthreats. IFES also worked with partners such as the court of Bosnia and Herzegovina to organize the second annual meeting of the Europe and Eurasia Regional Electoral Jurisprudence Network in Sarajevo. Judges and EMBs in the region led in-depth discussions on challenges they faced in election dispute resolution, drawing directly from election cases in network members’ own jurisdictions. These valuable exchanges of experience helped solidify the network as a meaningful and enduring entity, with future gatherings slated to convene regularly.
Moving forward, IFES’ Regional Europe Office will continue to support experience-sharing and build self-reliance among its networks of electoral stakeholders, with a particular focus on young professionals in election administration. All activities will be designed to promote meaningful participant engagement and group discussions with subject matter experts functioning as interactive facilitators rather than as traditional trainers. Topics for future events include formal oversight of political finance – identified through a survey of European and Eurasian stakeholders – electoral access for persons with intellectual disabilities, cybersecurity in the electoral process for civil society organizations and the engagement between EMBs and social media companies to combat disinformation throughout the electoral cycle.
“We talked a lot even outside of the workshop. We compared the experiences. It essentially brought us more understanding of what we are doing and where we are heading.”
– Program participant from Moldova
The work of IFES’ Regional Europe Office is part of the “Regional Elections Administration and Political Processes Strengthening Program,” made possible by the generous support of the United States Agency for International Development through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS). Established in 1995, CEPPS pools the expertise of three premier international organizations dedicated to democratic development: IFES, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. CEPPS has a 25-year track record of collaboration and leadership in democracy, human rights and governance support, learning from experience, and adopting new approaches and tools based on the ever-evolving technological landscape.
¹This is an estimated percentage that includes poll responses from two online events. Since poll responses did not capture a 100 percent response rate, IFES applied the average reported percentage from each event and applied it to the aggregate number of participants to find the respective share of women.
Published on July 17, 2020.