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IFES Granted Observer Status before the Venice Commission


Since 1990, the Venice Commission has been active in advising its member states on key constitutional and legal issues. It is a key advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of electoral and constitutional law. It was created in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at a time of urgent need for legislative assistance in Central and Eastern Europe. The Commission's official name is the European Commission for Democracy through Law, but is usually referred to as the Venice Commission. It is composed of permanent members from 60 member states (the 47 member states of the Council of Europe and 13 other countries) as well as observer organizations such as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the International Association of Constitutional Law. On June 9, 2016, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) was officially extended observer status before the Venice Commission’s Council for Democratic Elections, which handles all of the Commission’s work in this field.

On July 14, Professor Srdjan Darmanovic, the Ambassador of Montenegro to the U.S. and a representative of the Venice Commission, visited IFES headquarters in Washington to discuss the Commission’s work and how IFES can play a vital role on a broad range of electoral issues. “I would like to congratulate IFES on receiving observer status. IFES will contribute a lot to our work. In many ways, IFES is an old and new partner. We already use IFES opinions and assessments on electoral issues,” Ambassdor Darmanovic said in his opening remarks.

The Venice Commission convenes quarterly and all legal opinions are first considered before the various councils and then before the full plenary for adoption. Recently, the Venice Commission has adopted key opinions on a joint opinion by the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR on the draft electoral code of Armenia and a legal opinion on amendments to the law of Ukraine on the election of people’s Deputies regarding the exclusion of candidates from party lists.

The October session of the Venice Commission will be the first meeting that IFES will attend in its new observer capacity. IFES’ involvement will be crucial in terms of early warning on opinions and legal/electoral framework issues that are arising in many of the countries where IFES works. It will also allow IFES to input key points during the formative stages of these opinions. Where there is cross-over or overlap, a coordinated approach might also be developed. Finally, IFES will have the opportunity to provide input on key methodological developments in the electoral field, such as the recently adopted “Joint Guidelines for Preventing and Responding to the Misuse of Administrative Resources during Electoral Processes.”

Closing the event at IFES headquarters, IFES Vice President of Programs Michael Svetlik added, “IFES is very pleased to have observer status and we plan to make the most of it. The Venice Commission’s work often impacts and informs IFES’ work on the ground in many countries.”

Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz, IFES Europe & Eurasia Director, will serve as the main contact point for relations with the Venice Commission. She will maintain communication with the Commission and keep the organization abreast of developing issues and opportunities for IFES’ involvement. “I look forward to developing a collaborative relationship with the Venice Commission,” Dr. Martin-Rozumilowicz said, adding, “this will keep not only the Europe and Eurasia division, but all of IFES at the forefront of global electoral legislative issues.”