|EuroMeSCo Quarterly Seminar: "Electoral Cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean Area"|
Vienna hosted the last EuroMeSCo Quarterly Seminar, organised in collaboration with the Austrian Institute for International Affairs (OIIP), and with the support of the Berlin-based Democracy Reporting International (dri).
Held on 24-25 September 2008, at the OIIP’s premises, this seminar gathered experts from Europe, as well as the Mashreq and Maghreb regions. Key questions addressed included: what is the impact of elections in the South on the level of political development and public participation?; what are the potentials and pitfalls of the electoral frameworks present in both North Africa and the Mashreq?; should the EU and the EMP become actively engaged in the field of electoral cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean area, and if so, to what extent?
To view the programme, please click here.
To view the list of participants, please click here.
Divided into four sessions and gathering academic experts, policy-makers and journalists from across Europe and the Southern Mediterranean, this meeting discussed the relevance of participatory mechanisms, such as elections, in advancing political development and participation in the Southern Mediterranean region.
Despite positive developments in a large number of countries in the Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East – mainly as regards the expansion and growing influence of Pan-Arab media, which is in turn creating an increasingly open space for discourse and debate, as well as important social changes – it was generally agreed that both regions are still characterised by political stasis. This stagnation is noteworthy, especially given the sharp increase over recent years in the number of elections, and thus of potential channels for expressing dissatisfaction with the political leadership. All participants subscribed to the notion that elections are a function of social change and represent an important instrument for reducing the gap between the rulers and the ruled. Yet it was also highlighted that such electoral processes continue to be used as part of a broader strategy pursued by incumbent regimes, in their attempt to temper these social changes and to avoid the establishment of truly democratic mechanisms whereby the state, and the leadership itself, could be controlled by the demos.
Participants pointed out that in the overwhelming majority of countries in the Southern Mediterranean, elections are managed and have hitherto resulted either in the acclamation of the incumbent regime, or in the election or re-election of regime-friendly parties. It was noted that the Egyptian parliamentary elections of 2005 represented an exception in this regard, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s relative success. However, the regime’s subsequent return to repressive policies, and its closure of the political process, substantiated the general argument. After intense discussion of the situation in North Africa and in the Mashreq, it was concluded that various regimes openly apply numerous safeguards, such as designing the electoral systems to their advantage, drawing electoral districts in a discriminatory fashion, limiting voter and candidate eligibility, to name but a few. In other words: the dramatic rise of electoral processes in the South says little about the real degree of political empowerment and participation.
Finally, participants discussed the current status of Euro-Mediterranean electoral cooperation and to what extent it is actually feasible. It was noted that the EU has been actively developing a profile in the area of election monitoring and is increasingly present in the Southern Mediterranean. Unfortunately, however, this presence has not yet translated into a pro-active stance vis-à-vis the ruling elite, which would help promote more open criticism of unfair practices. In addition, there was widespread consensus that the policy pursued by the EU has turned a blind eye to the de facto abolition of the principle of free and fair elections in the Southern Mediterranean, thereby giving priority to maintaining good relations with its governmental partners. In view of this, it was suggested that civil society programs – targeting both political parties and civil society in the region – should be more forcefully developed, in a bid to inform and empower non-governmental actors. Moreover, financial assistance within the framework of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument should be linked to the level of compliance shown by regimes as regards internationally- accepted rules in the sphere of elections, and thus with respect to the legally-binding association agreements that underpin each bilateral relationship between the EU and its Southern Mediterranean partners.