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Democracy-building aid and election observation

Democratic structures increase stability, because they promote responsible governance and a peaceful balance of interests. Democracy-building aid, particularly in the form of election observation, is therefore a key part of the Federal Foreign Office’s approach to crisis prevention.

Democracy-building aid supports the political opinion-forming process and the political participation of all social groups in young and re‑established democracies. It takes the form of

- election observation
- education work
- promotion of political participation and of the independent media
- support for constitutional organs.

The Federal Foreign Office is particularly engaged in the field of election observation, where the aim is to improve the conditions for conducting free and fair elections, thus enhancing confidence in the democratisation process. At the same time, election observation is intended to help prevent manipulation before, during and after elections. International election observation highlights the international community’s interest in a country’s democratic development and is a key instrument for fostering civil and political human rights.

Democracy makes it possible for conflicts of interest to be settled peacefully and in the long term leads to responsible governance which also integrates disadvantaged population groups. In this way, democratisation processes can help to stabilise a country’s structures.

Prerequisites for election observation

Election observation requires that the technical and legal prerequisites for the conduct of democratic elections are in principle fulfilled (independent electoral commission, democratic electoral law, participation of the opposition in the election, freedom of expression and access to the media for all political parties).

Election observers can only be seconded to a given country if its government has invited them in and the mission is coordinated at international level. Germany takes part in international election observation missions coordinated by the OSCE and the EU. Election observation is never carried out on a bilateral basis. German MPs take part in international election observation missions organised by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe, NATO and the European Parliament.

Organisation of election observation

In Germany, the Center for International Peace Operations (Zentrum für Internationale Friedenseinsätze, ZIF) in Berlin, in coordination with the Federal Foreign Office, is responsible for selecting and nominating all election observers or candidates for election observation missions. The ZIF was founded in April 2002 by the German Government and the Bundestag, working closely together. Its task is to make a German contribution towards strengthening international civilian capacities for crisis prevention, conflict resolution and post‑conflict peacebuilding. In order to fulfil this mandate, the ZIF is, among other things, responsible for the training of civilian experts and managers for deployment in international peace and observation missions operated by the UN, OSCE and EU. As a rule, only candidates who are part of the ZIF’s pool of experts – and have thus successfully completed a preparatory course – are nominated for an election observation mission. Germans interested in taking part in an election observation mission can go to the ZIF website and apply to take part in a training course and be included in the pool of experts.

Information on election observation (OSCE)

EU election observation missions

The EU undertakes election observation missions in countries which do not belong to the OSCE area. The EU Commission decides which countries have priority in consultation with the competent Council working groups and the European Parliament. The final decision on the sending of an election observation mission is made by the EU Commission on the basis of the findings of a needs assessment mission. Missions are headed by a member of the European Parliament and coordinated by the Commission’s EuropAid Cooperation Office (EuropAid).

The EU Commission selects and seconds the participants for EU election observation missions on the basis of the nominations put forward by the member states. The ZIF nominates the German candidates. Members of an EU election observation mission must already have experience in international election observation missions.

As a rule, the status of the election observers is set forth in an agreement between the host country and the institution organizing the mission. Moreover, the election observers undertake to comply with the rules of the seconding organisation (Code of Conduct for OSCE/ODIHR Observers, Code of Conduct for EU Election Observers). These stipulate that the observers must adhere to strict neutrality and refrain from expressing any opinions on the electoral process or results to the media or general public. The findings of their observations are included in the statements and reports submitted by the election observation mission.

The local German Embassies often prepare the observers for their task, for example by briefing them on the current situation and establishing contact with public figures.


Last updated 22.09.2015

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