Why AEGEE Election Observation will not send a mission to the General Election in Italy

 

The General Election in Italy

The upcoming General Election in Italy scheduled for 4 March 2018 will apply a new electoral law to determine the members of both Chambers following the dissolution of the Italian Parliament by President Sergio Mattarella on 28 December 2017. For what will be Italy’s 18th legislature since 1948, Italian voters will next month elect the 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies and the 315 elective members of the Senate of the Republic through the means of a newly established electoral process, building on the legislative changes made to Italy’s electoral system by the Electoral Law of 2017 (‘Rosatellum bis’).

The Rosatellum Electoral Law was approved on 12 October 2017 by the Chamber of Deputies and on 26 October 2017 by the Senate. In one round of voting, the General Election on 4 March 2018 will, for the first time, be conducted through a parallel mixed voting system, with 37% of seats allocated using a ‘first past the post’ electoral system and 61% using a proportional method. Undoubtedly, this is a very interesting event to observe.

Upon inquiries on whether or not AEGEE Election Observation is planning to deploy a Mission to Italy to asses the upcoming Election, the following statement has been drafted by the Project Team to explain the obstacles encountered in the process of sending a Mission to the country, which regrettably overall hindered AEGEE Election Observation from pursuing its independent civic mandate on this occasion.

 

Accreditation procedure for the observation of elections in Italy

In its capacity as an international non-partisan youth-focused institution, run by young independent civil society members aspiring to observe and analyse elections in Europe, AEGEE Election Observation reached out to different Italian authorities as early as on 26 October 2017, and throughout November 2017, with the intention to obtain a confirmation of the possibility to be present throughout the country during the Election and to set up a Mission to assess the process. In that effort, our Team contacted the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Italian Ministry of Interior, wishing to request accreditation as observers for the General Election on 4 March 2018.

The response obtained from the Ministry of Interior on 27 October 2017 indicated that when it comes to foreign election observers, the Italian law No. 232 (2012), Art. 4, only allowed those sent by the OSCE/ODIHR to be present in polling stations on Election Day. Regarding AEGEE Election Observation’s request for accreditation and access to polling stations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided a similar response as was given by the Ministry of Interior in November 2017, insisting on the understanding that according to Italian law, no international election observers beyond those sent by the OSCE/ODIHR could be accredited. However, at that point, there was actually no provision in the Italian domestic law that regulated the presence of international election observers from civil society.

The approach taken by Italian authorities was in contravention of the letter and the spirit of the commitments undertaken by all OSCE participating States, including Italy, under the 1990 CSCE/OSCE Copenhagen Document, Art. 8 of which reads:

The participating States consider that the presence of observers, both foreign and domestic, can enhance the electoral process for States in which elections are taking place. They therefore invite observers from any other CSCE participating States and any appropriate private institutions and organizations who may wish to do so to observe the course of their national election proceedings, to the extent permitted by law.

In addition to the legislative reform made in 2017 in regard to the electoral system of Italy, the law on the accreditation of foreign (international) election observers has been modified in late 2017 as well. Previously, the accreditation of international election observers was governed by the Italian law No. 232 (2012), which was amended by Italian law No. 205 (Stability Law for 2018) on 27 December 2017. The Italian law No. 205 (2017) provides for a confirmation of Italy’s democratic commitments towards international independant election observation, in a spirit of enhancing cooperation among European states while respecting the legitimate sovereign interest on matters of security.

Regrettably, however, with regard to its substance, the text itself does not contain any significant modification compared to what has already been enacted by the law promulgated in 2012, nor does the new law close the gaps or resolve the ambiguity of its previous version. Italian law No. 232 (2012) solely regulated the question of the accreditation of foreign election observers sent by the OSCE/ODIHR explicitly, but did not address the question of the accreditation of other international non-partisan observers from civil society.

This has remained unchanged in as that the Italian law No. 205 (2017), while generally allowing for the ‘presence, in the electoral offices, during electoral consultations or referendum, of international observers’ if they are accredited, does only state that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of accreditation, again without specifying the relevant procedures for international non-partisan civil society observers wishing to receive accreditation. As seen in the lack of action by Italian authorities in regard to the request for accreditation made by AEGEE Election Observation, this poses an undue obstacle to any election observation initiative by international non-partisan civil society organisations, which stands in glaring contradiction to the commitment made by Italy on the international level in the 1990 CSCE/OSCE Document, which welcomes the ‘presence of […] foreign […] observers from any […] appropriate […] organizations who may wish […] to observe the course of their national election proceedings, to the extent permitted by law.’

 

Legal changes made to the Italian electoral law in 2017 and Italy’s commitments towards a democratic conduct of elections including their observation by independent organisations

Italy’s recent electoral reform, including notably also the changes made to the law on international election observers, has given an opportunity to recall Italy’s commitment to fostering European values and adhering to democratic principles, as well as to highlight the necessity for the respect of established procedures for international non-partisan election observation, including such conducted by civil society organisations.

In view of the legal developments in Italy in late 2017, AEGEE Election Observation has contacted the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again on 8 February 2018, in order to not only echo its request for accreditation but also to obtain clarification on eventual changes in regard to the accreditation procedure for independent foreign observers which might result from the new legislation or related policies. Awaiting simultaneously a formal response to the enquiries on accreditation made within the past months and a declaration regarding the present general status of international non-partisan civil society election observers in Italy beyond those sent by OSCE/ODIHR, AEGEE Election Observation regrets that until as far as 24 February, no replication has been made by Italian authorities.

It is to be noted that the removal of the specific reference to OSCE/ODIHR election observers contained in the Italian law No. 232 (2012) is a progress made by the late Italian law No. 205 (2017). At the same time, the law on the accreditation of foreign observers remains quite generic, generating ambiguity in regard to the status of international civil society observers. The lack of clarification by Italian authorities along with their lack of action on the accreditation request made resulted in that AEGEE Election Observation sees room to raise concerns on the level of the regulation of international election observation in Italy, as uncertainty prevails about how the new legislation applies to international observers other than those sent by the OSCE/ODIHR. An unclear legal provision of the Italian law which remains ambiguous in regard to the determination of the status of independent international election observers beyond those sent by the OSCE/ODIHR is a rather disappointing reason for AEGEE Election Observation not to be able to deploy a Mission.

 

AEGEE Election Observation’s decision made on the deployment of a Mission in view of the situation faced

AEGEE Election Observation monitors, assesses and reports on the participation of youth in elections across Europe. The organisation was initiated in November 2013 after the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE/ODIHR in Warsaw. Our methodology is inspired by the one applied by the OSCE/ODIHR and the EU, however, takes into account AEGEE's experience in youth issues as added value. Apart from observing the vote and election day proceedings, AEGEE Election Observation analyses the role and impact of young people not only as voters, but also as young candidates, young party members and campaign activists, young civil society actors and leaders, young journalists, young election administration and support staff, or as young observers, thus being able to provide tailored recommendations on the conduct of more inclusive elections.

As an independent organisation committed to building democratic constituencies, enhancing the democratic participation of civil society and promoting European values, AEGEE Election Observation celebrates, as a matter of course, all commitments made by European states towards upholding and promoting democratic principles. Therefore, we also welcome all activities which serve the purpose of reaffirming these values and principles. AEGEE Election Observation welcomes accordingly that the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in close partnership with other European institutions, supports, for example, the Global Campus of Human Rights, a programme which promotes election observation as a legitimate means of civic participation, and where related training is provided. While fully supporting this initiative, AEGEE Election Observations cannot ignore the dissonance between the Italian Ministry’s decision to promote an event devoted to democracy on the one hand, and the bureaucratic restrictions imposed on the participation of international non-partisan civil society observers in the upcoming elections on the other hand.

In addition to election day observation, and following initial research prior to deployment, AEGEE Election Observation Missions are built around a range of stakeholder meetings and interviews during which different insights are collected from national actors and later assessed by the Mission. This is worth noting in the case of the upcoming Italian General Election, because liaising with stakeholders and other relevant actors does not require accreditation. Hence, AEGEE Election Observation could, in principle, and in the absence of either a formal invitation from Italian authorities to observe the vote and related proceedings on Election Day or of a response to the request made for accreditation, decide to simply deploy a ‘research mission’ – which would still be able to produce a detailed and relevant report on the role of young people in the election at hand.

However, any assessment of youth participation in elections without having witnessed the very act of that participation on election day will necessarily be insufficiently informed. Furthermore, an exclusively research-based mission without access to polling stations for the observation of the vote and related procedures on election day would deprive our observers of an authentic election observation experience – which is an important element of AEGEE Election Observation’s raison d’être. For these reasons, AEGEE Election Observation has decided not to send a mission to the General Election in Italy this time.

 

Conclusion and recommendations

AEGEE Election Observation takes this event as an opportunity to stress the importance of a full and democratic participation of civil society, and youth in particular, at all levels of electoral processes, including in their observation and assessment.

As some of our partners may have noticed, the case of the General Election in Italy is not the first time that AEGEE Election Observation faces obstacles in observing elections in European countries and proving a youth perspective on those. Previously, similar challenges were notably faced in France, which lacks legislation on the accreditation of international civil society election observers. As an organisation devoted to democratic principles, we look forward to a full implementation of the Copenhagen commitments.

Legislation of all OSCE participating States should allow international and domestic non-partisan civil society organisations to observe their elections, and the regulation of the proceedings to be taken to receive accreditation should facilitate such initiatives rather than impeding on them.