The third five years - stabilization
In this period the Association continued its projects and missions, and expanded its activities and relations. 2001 was a very important year in the history of the Association, because it was the year of the 10th anniversary of the ACEEEO.
During this year representatives of the ACEEEO kept on participating in observation missions, such as in Montenegro and Belarus. The Belarus mission was the first mission organized and implemented by the Association. In virtue of the invitation of the Belarus Central Election Commission, the ACEEEO – as the only international organisation – started the first phase of the long-term observational mission. During the long-term observation, this mission followed with attention the whole election procedure. In the last phase of the observational mission – in parallel with other international organisations – 61 short-term observers from 11 countries represented the Association. On election day, teams of two visited 240 polling stations on the whole area of the Republic of Belarus. The professional content of the ACEEEO summary report harmonised with the report of the observers of the OSCE-ODIHR, the European Council and the European Union. The European organisations appraised positively the first independent observation mission of the ACEEEO.
Owing to the professional acknowledgement, the Council of Europe, granted consultative status to the ACEEEO. It was considered a great achievement and with this status, the ACEEEO gained international acknowledgement. At the same time, the Association received the UN/NGO regional network membership in November 2001 as well.
The jubilee annual conference of the ACEEEO was held in Brijuni, Croatia in 2001. During this conference, members celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Association. President of the Republic of Croatia opened the Conference. The main topic was the financing of the election campaigns. The conference gave recommendations concerning the regulation of campaign financing for the members. For the ten-year-anniversary, a CD was prepared, in order to present the activity and the history of the Association.
In 2001, after the jubilee year of the ACEEEO, participation in election observation missions, as one of the main projects of the Association, was increased, because the ACEEEO sent representatives to the following countries: Ukraine, Hungary, Latvia, and Yugoslavia. As the title of this part indicates, the ACEEEO was open to establish relations with international organizations. Besides strengthening the relationship and co-operation with the Council of Europe, especially with the Venice Commission, the Secretariat participated in meetings with the representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, and European Policy Centre in order to discuss the possible collaboration. As a result of continuous co-operation and the expertise, the Council for Democratic Elections of the Venice Commission decided to grant the ACEEEO observer status. With this decision we were authorized to attend the meetings of the Venice Commission and work with them cooperatively. Moreover, a co-operation agreement was signed between the OSCE-ODIHR and the ACEEEO strengthening our co-operative relationship in 2002.
One of the most important projects of this year was introduced at the Moscow conference, where the Convention on Election Standards, Electoral Rights and Freedoms was presented. The topic of remodelling of the existing European electoral standards in a format unified international document seemed to be in full correspondence to the political spirit. The fact that Mr Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, opened the conference shows the importance of this event. In the Moscow conference the Association admitted the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Azerbaijan as new members of the ACEEEO.
Regarding the main projects of the ACEEEO, 2002 was a very successful year from a professional point of view. The Convention was prepared and adopted; the multilingual election dictionary was enlarged, the ACEEEO developed the Firstvoter.eu project. The project’s aim was to create a web-based informative forum for the widening of knowledge among the youths of Europe about the importance of electoral participation in the form of voting. The project was scheduled in three steps. As the first step toward the realization of the project the Secretariat of the Association organized a preparatory meeting in Budapest for the team leaders appointed by the ACEEEO. At the preparatory meeting Albania, Hungary, Lithuania, and Sweden were represented. During the preparatory meeting the participating team leaders agreed on the continuation of the project through an international youth exchange program (step 2), which took place in 2003.
Moreover, the Association contributed in two important international projects. One of them was the Money and Politics project, in co-operation with the IFES, which was developed to test the Political Finance Disclosure Database in Hungary and in Lithuania. The goal of the project was to develop the transparency of political process by giving free access to the campaign and financing information. The second project was the Electoral Process Information Collection (EPIC) project developed by the International IDEA and designed to introduce electoral systems all over the world and make them available easily through the internet. By presenting information about electoral systems, electoral management, legislative framework, voter registration, voter education and other related topics in a wide range of countries, users are able to compare, and identify common practice within the electoral administration. According to the signed cooperation agreement on the EPIC (Elections Process Information Collection) Project between the International IDEA and the ACEEEO, the ACEEEO Secretariat collected all the information needed for the project from its member states and completed the EPIC project.
2003 was the year of missions, because the ACEEEO observed the elections in the following countries: Estonia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Serbia and Montenegro (three times), the Russian Federation. This year was significant in the respect of co-operation with the Council of Europe. The ACEEEO sent representatives to the Multidisciplinary Ad Hoc Group of Specialists on legal, operational and technical standards for e-enabled voting, to the Council for Democratic Elections of the Council of Europe (Venice Commission) and to the Group of Specialists on core technical standards for e-enabled voting. This year the Committee of Ministers (Council of Europe) proclaimed that the consultative status granted in 2001, changed to participatory status with the Council of Europe from 2003.
The ACEEEO devoted its working program in 2003 to the theme “Media and Elections”. The reasons were twofold. First, the utmost importance of the role of media in a better functioning democratic process compels us to reconsider the link between media and elections on the global level in the course of events that shaped so dramatically the history of the 20th century. Second, and, with regard to the scope of activities of ACEEEO, most importantly, the democratization process of societies in Central-Eastern Europe makes this ever-green-topic one of the most timely and most relevant ones of contemporary public discourse on the regional level. Therefore, the idea to organize a theme on “Media and Elections” emerged as a result of a bottom-up process. To understand the correspondence between media and elections in Central-Eastern Europe, the ACEEEO Secretariat prepared a study and questionnaire concerning this topic, which was the main theme of the annual conference held in 2003, London. The fact that the annual conference was held in the United Kingdom proved our willingness to open to Western Europe and to establish closer relationship with experts and organizations outside Eastern and Central Europe. The conference was organized by the ACEEEO in co-operation with The Electoral Commission of UK, the Association of Electoral Administrators of UK, and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES). This year the Association accepted Kazakhstan as a new institutional member.
As one year passed on, the Association still continued its main activity: election observation mission. In 2004 the ACEEEO sent representatives to the countries such as:
Georgia, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus and Ukraine (three rounds). The Association went on strengthening its relations with international organizations, namely OSCE-ODIHR, Council of Europe, International IDEA and IFES. Besides co-operation with international and Western-European organizations, the Association committed itself to a different path. In view of the election situation in the Middle East, the ACEEEO considered it important to hand over its expertise and knowledge to the countries in that region and offered its professional background. Firstly representatives participated in the statutory meeting of the International Mission for Iraqi Elections organized by the Elections Canada and supported by the United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq with the involvement of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES). Comprised mainly of independent electoral management bodies, the IMIE was focusing on the election process in Iraq, as well as the registration and voting process outside Iraq. The second step was the visit to Palestine, upon the invitation of the Palestinian Election Commission. During the stay in Palestine, there were meetings with several election officials and representatives of organizations interested in elections and made discussions about the further cooperation. This meeting was the first station in a project of greater importance.
The Association continued its Firstvoter.eu project, which entered the second phase. It was an exchange program among our member states and countries from the European Union. Participants were from Russia, Hungary, Spain, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania.
At the beginning of 2004, the Association took on a long-term project, the ACEEEO publication. The first edition of the ACEEEO newsletter – Elections in Europe – was issued in English and Russian. The newsletter was distributed in our annual conference in Tirana, Albania, where the main topic was “Voter Turnout with special regard to the first time voters”. The Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the Association during the Tirana conference.
Besides the participation in the continuation of the EPIC project, which was started in the summer of 2004, the ACEEEO contributed to an other International IDEA project, which was International IDEA and regional partners on the political parties program. The aim of this project was to provide legislators, policymakers, political parties and other reformers with a good basis to assess the advantages and disadvantages of their own systems in order to identify opportunities for reform. ACEEEO experts collected the information on country context and the external regulation of political parties in the ACEEEO countries concerned.
The conclusion that can be drawn is that the year of 2004 was a very successful year in the life of the Association, both in regional and in international point of view.
According to the agreements, the ACEEEO continued its participation in the International Mission for Iraqi Elections (IMIE) in 2005 as well. Moreover the Association took another role in the Middle East. Representing the Foundation of Afghanistan and the ACEEEO Secretariat, a Middle East election expert travelled to Afghanistan to observe the election preparations and the elections. After the elections, the Acting Chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan visited Hungary and discussed the possible ways of collaboration. In order to continue the co-operation with the Election Commission of Palestine, the Association, cooperating with Panorama Center (Palestinian NGO), organized a workshop in Ramallah for ACEEEO and Palestinian election experts in order to exchange views and experiences on the development of the election systems and to discuss current topics of elections. As a follow-up, the presentations and the summary of the discussions were published by the ACEEEO. This project was initiated and financed by the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior of Hungary.
Having observer status at the Venice Commission, representatives attended its meeting and discussed the feasibilities of a jointly-organized conference in 2007. After the meeting, an agreement was concluded, to organize a European Conference of Electoral Management Bodies jointly with the Venice Commission in 2007. This was an important step in the strengthening the pan-European dimension of the ongoing activities in the electoral field as well as in the co-operation between our organizations.
The newest initiative of the Association was introduced at the third Conference of Global Election Organizations and ACEEEO General Assembly Meeting, held in Siófok, Hungary. The 3rd International Meeting of the Global Election Organizations (GEO) – previously held in Canada and Mexico – was now hosted by Hungary. One of the main topics of this very significant Conference was „The role of courts in the judging of electoral disputes”. Participants of the Global Election Officials Conference launched an initiative to hold an annual Global Elections Day on the first Thursday of February every year. The main goals of this day are: confirming our belief in the irreversibility of democratic processes; informing the public of new achievements and challenges related to various types of voting systems; calling the attention of parliaments, governments, politicians and world leaders about the important leadership role they play in promoting a culture of democracy and high levels of voter participation; influencing first-time voters and young voters to commit themselves to democratic values.
Finally the ACEEEO contributed to the Handbook of Electoral Management Bodies, composed by the International IDEA.
Jubilee annual conference and General Assembly Meeting was held in Latvia in 2006. One of the most important achievements of the conference was that the General Assembly adopted the new Charter of the Association and the new strategy for 2006-2010. According to the modified Charter, the new name of the Association is Association of European Election Officials (ACEEEO).
In 2006, the following projects and initiatives were continued: Global Elections Day, election observation missions, ACEEEO newsletter.
A new project was launched in 2006:”Non armis, sed vi suffragiorum" (By the authority of the ballot, not the force of the bullet). The goal is to make youth understand the importance of participating in the political processes of the democratic life of the European Union, particularly the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections. This project supported by the European Commission contains different activity plans e.g. discussions, exchange of best practices, publication of writings, creating a website, that complement each other and will be undertaken by a coalition of NGOs from member states of the EU. In the frame of this project a conference took place in 2006, in Budapest. The conference provided good opportunity to get acquainted with methods and practices of how to educate youngsters and raise their interest in election processes. Participants of the conference were representatives of non-governmental organisations and election management bodies from Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Spain. As a result of the conference, the special edition of the ACEEEO newsletter was issued and by the end of 2006 there was an intention to prepare a handbook aiming at widening the youths’ knowledge about the electoral processes and improving their „citizenship skills” (critical way of thinking, knowledge of political preferences, analysis of political alternatives). The handbook served as an important tool in providing electoral knowledge in secondary schools during history or citizenship lessons as well as in the course of non-formal education activities, trainings.
This year the ACEEEO published three main publications: the third volume of “Elections in Europe” dedicated to challenges in youth voters’ education (a special edition supported by the European Commission); the fourth volume of „Elections in Europe” was dedicated to the ACEEEO and GEO conference of 2005; and the ACEEEO jubilee publication. As 2006 marked the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the ACEEEO, the Association considered it appropriate to celebrate this anniversary with a publication presenting the developments that have taken place in the region during the last 15 years. The ACEEEO jubilee book was published by the 15th annual conference and General Assembly meeting held in Jurmala, Latvia. This jubilee book summarized the aims of the 15 years and the results obtained so far.