EU election monitoring… junket, joke or both?

By Christian Nielsen

“The Afghan elections were fair, but not free,” declared European election monitors. Meaningless sound-bite or what?

2 September 2009

What the hell was the doing monitoring the recent Afghan elections when hardly anyone showed up to the 's own parliamentary elections earlier in the year? If it can't motivate democracy at home, what makes the Union think it should join the circus of monitoring organisations in countries like ?

The answer: part arrogance, part a widening foreign policy interest, and a good chunk of junketeering – where tens of EU officials and hangers-on clock up mission-miles.

And gauging from the ridiculous statement by European monitors in Afghanistan following the August presidential elections – that they were fair but not free – I can't help but wonder if this important event was reduced to a sound-bite. It just smacked of the EU ponying for political cred on the international stage.

I hope I'm wrong.

According to Reuters on 22 August, General Philippe Morillon, who is chief observer of the EU's election mission to Afghanistan said it had been “fair generally” but “free was not the case in some parts of the country due to the terror”.

Reuters went on to say that “the EU, like other western groups that observed the poll, had few staff able to access the violent southern provinces”.

So what is the EU doing making big statements like that? Big and confusing. Morillon could as easily have said the election was generally free but not fair in all parts and it would have been equally as meaningless.

Perhaps more meaningful was the statement issued by the local election monitors, the Free and Fair Election Foundation, which no doubt did have people on the ground to back up their claim that some instances of fraud and irregularities were noted.

If the EU wants to play a more prominent role in international relations, it needs to work on its credibility at home and abroad. Sound-bites might win headlines but they don't guarantee you a place in the international relations big tent.

© Copyright – Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.


  • Christian Nielsen

    Christian Nielsen is a journalist, copy writer and editor based in Brussels. He writes pretty much anything that takes his fancy, from the woes of travelling with kids to the dangers of antidepressants, but technology, EU affairs and science writing pay the bills.

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