On 25 November 2021, the European Commission issued a package of measures to reinforce democracy and the integrity of elections, in follow-up to the European Democracy Action Plan and the EU Citizenship report 2020. The package consists of four legislative initiatives, addressing the transparency of political advertising, electoral rights of mobile EU citizens in municipal and EU elections, and the statute and funding of the European political parties and foundations.
Given its broad nature, the package of measures has implications relevant for local and regional authorities, for instance in the case of simplifications to electoral processes which could potentially lead to increase in participation in municipal elections, and a higher involvement of mobile EU citizens in local life.
As highlighted in the opinion, the proposed measures in the package on Reinforcing democracy and integrity of elections however do not adequately reflect their implications at the local and regional level. The opinion calls for due regard to be given to the specific knowledge at local and regional level with regard to identifying potential threats to the integrity of democratic processes, and for capacity building and adequate funding for local and regional authorities when it comes to conducting electoral processes or fighting disinformation. The opinion furthermore calls for a more inclusive democratic participation, including by promoting the right of citizens to participate by means of advance voting, postal voting, electronic voting and internet voting.
In its follow-up report provided on 7 September 2022, the European Commission (EC) noted that it is currently conducting a number of initiatives with involvement of local players, including through funding programmes and in the context of the European Cooperation Network on Elections. Meetings of this network have included representatives from local governments and from funded projects involving local government.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- firmly supports all efforts to ensure an open, fair and pluralistic political debate, and equal democratic participation and engagement;
- regrets that the proposed measures in the package on Reinforcing democracy and integrity of elections do not adequately reflect their implications at the local and regional level; underscores the specific knowledge at local and regional level with regard to identifying potential threats to the integrity of democratic processes;
- welcomes the establishment of the "joint mechanism for electoral resilience"; furthermore, believes that the local and regional dimension should be incorporated into such cooperation given its aim to protect elections at all levels;
- would like to see the legislative proposals recognise the fact that local and regional authorities contribute to strengthening European democracy by promoting and facilitating the participation of European citizens in European and local elections, a task that cannot be kept solely within the remit of state authorities in the individual Member States;
- expects Member States to recognise the right of European citizens residing in other Member States (mobile citizens) to stand as candidates in municipal elections for all positions;
- advocates that the right of citizens to participate by means of advance voting, postal voting, electronic voting and internet voting should be promoted;
- welcomes the establishment of a contact point on electoral rights at Commission level; highlights the associated need to ensure capacity building and adequate funding for local and regional authorities;
- calls for related initiatives to be accompanied by capacity building of public authorities to address disinformation at all levels in a targeted manner; notes that there is a lack of recognition that local and regional authorities, being closest to the citizens, can be a valuable asset in fighting disinformation.