Webinar: Youth in election observation for a vibrant democracy - Report
▸ Victor Negrescu, Member of the European Parliament, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education
▸ Andreas Martin Speiser, Vice President, AGORA Election Observation
▸ Sylwester Oracz, Political Finance and Campaigns Expert, Youth Engagement Coordinator, Political Accountability Foundation (Poland)
▸ Kira Mössinger, Program Manager of the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE)
Moderated by Alexander Shlyk, International election expert, former Head of the Election Department OSCE/ODIHR, Co-author of the EPDE study Active Citizens for a Vibrant Democracy
In a recent webinar by the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), experts discussed the state of affairs for citizen engagement and youth participation in European elections and ways forward ahead of the 2024 European Parliamentary elections.
Political engagement via citizen election observation
EPDE’s newest publication Active Citizens for a Vibrant Democracy was presented, which compares regulations for citizen election observation across the European Union and recommends for the European Union and its Member States to implement OSCE recommendations concerning clear rules and best practice standards for citizen election observation.
The European Union has introduced fresh instruments to reinforce its efforts to better engage citizens in European politics and elections, which have led to a noticeable resurgence in participation. The EU consistently underscores the vital role of citizen observers in bolstering democracy and ensuring the integrity of democratic elections. Citizen engagement stands as a pivotal driver in the progression of democratic values and electoral processes throughout the European Union. While election monitoring is a prevailing practice in younger democracies, particularly in Eastern Europe, it is imperative to acknowledge that the development and enhancement of democracy are continuous endeavors. This underscores the significance of election observation not only in Eastern European democracies but also in all EU Member States and beyond.
Concerning youth participation in European elections, it was noted that there is a tendency among young individuals to disassociate themselves from the political process, resulting in a low level of engagement in European elections. Young people are often interested in politics but may lack trust in political parties and institutions. This could be due to a negative perception of politics, or the fact that politicians do not represent their views. EPDE believes that election monitoring can help prevent these negative developments as allowing citizens to monitor and oversee elections may increase youth participation and foster a stronger sense of involvement in Europe's democratic process.
Speakers noted that citizen election observation as a politically impartial exercise could help instill trust in the electoral process and election outcomes. Andreas Speiser (Agora Election Observation) referred to the potential impact of involving young people in election observation missions. Providing them with this opportunity could ignite their interest in democracy and contribute positively to democratic processes within their country. One of the surveys conducted by AGORA showed that witnessing democracy in action often inspires individuals to become more actively engaged in the democratic process.
Domestic and international perspective
The Political Accountability Foundation aims to promote political accountability by enabling individuals to express their political interests privately. They support the Youth Action Forum (YAF), aiding in political process observation. They believe in turning political interest and understanding into practical engagement, actively involving YAF and the public for a clear view of operations. One of the members - Sylwester Oracz emphasized that their ultimate aim as a domestic citizen election observation organization is to establish confidence in the election process and enhance the legitimacy of the government that emerges from these elections. In the case of Poland, citizen election observation initially faced restrictions, however, the establishment of legal guidelines led to increased trust and transparency in the electoral process. By defining the roles and responsibilities of citizen observers, it became evident that election irregularities were isolated incidents rather than widespread occurrences. This formalization of citizen election observation earned domestic observers a positive reputation, and the public began to trust their valuable contribution to elections. The process of appointing observers and evaluating their findings added credibility to the overall observation effort, making it an essential tool for building trust in the election process and the observers' findings.
Furthermore, the webinar discussed the importance of youth engagement and citizen observation in international observation missions. It was suggested that training young observers at the national level can provide new perspectives for international observation missions. However, it was also emphasized that countries should ensure effective election observation at home to be credible actors in international observation efforts.
The potential for young observers to bring fresh perspectives and expertise to the field of election observation was acknowledged. Especially important is their understanding of new developments in information communication technologies (ICT) and social media in the electoral process.
European Parliament Member Victor Negrescu emphasized the importance of EU youth engagement initiatives, particularly with the upcoming 2024 EU elections. To encourage greater voter turnout and political participation, Victor Negrescu emphasized the need for effective communication about European elections, including explaining the positive aspects of the European Union and the impact of votes on various issues. Especially as he acknowledges that the voter profile might change, and some member states are confronting problems like high polarization in society and populism.
Speakers discussed their ideas on how to enhance youth participation in European elections while addressing issues such as funding, legal frameworks, and the benefits of cross-continental election observation.
A solution to the lack of legal provisions in some EU Member States for citizen election observation could be developed on the EU level. High-level support would need to be sought to address the situation collectively within the framework of European unity. Concerning the financial needs of citizen election observers to conduct their work, one proposal is to incorporate cross-cutting issues into their work to aid fundraising efforts, such as by adding aspects of engagement of youth or minority groups in political life. However, this is an interim solution until long-term sustainable funding programs have been developed on the EU level or on a Member State’s level to promote and strengthen citizen election observation across the EU.
Victor Negrescu stressed the importance of preparing for the next European election and communicating with society, moving beyond digital ads, and tailoring the approach to different Member States and regions. He believes in explaining to voters that their vote truly matters and that the focus for voters needs to be shifted from protest votes to positive votes. Overall, he commends the holding of webinars on the subject as a positive step toward fostering greater youth involvement in EU elections and strengthening the European identity. Beyond evaluating election fairness, election observation gives citizens a platform for broader expression and political exchange.
This webinar is part of the project “European voters - together for electoral integrity” and funded by the European Union as part of the Europe for Citizens (EfC) programme.