The Brief, powered by FACEBOOK – COVID elections

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/BOGDAN CRISTEL]

Like it or not, elections have been held and will continue to be held despite COVID-19 – and the pandemic will continue to leave its impact.

Some elections and referendums in the EU in 2020 were postponed while others were held regardless of the pandemic [see full list]. Last December, Romanians voted in a general election. In January, Portugal held presidential elections.

More elections are upcoming, in particular in the Netherlands (general elections 15-17 March), Bulgaria (general elections 4 April), the second round of the postponed French regional elections – possibly in June, and, of course, the German general election on 26 September.

The Council of Europe, the oldest European organisation specialised in elections, made an unusual communication. It’s based on a quote from Albert Camus novel ‘The Plague’ (1947), which tells the story of a plague sweeping the Algerian city of Oran, at the time under French rule.

“Habits! … When what’s needed is imagination”.

The Council of Europe hinted that we need to be imaginative when it comes to elections.

Despite their poisonous context, the US elections did make proof of imagination, with a record number of voters, in excess of 65.6 million, having cast postal votes.

Postal voting existed in the US before COVID-19, while in the EU, only a handful of countries (Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain) have such a practice, and only Germany and Austria appear to use it on a wide scale. In Germany, 29% of the electorate voted by post in the 2017 general election.

Elections held in a classic way, with paper ballots, tend to have had a low turnout in the COVID-19 period. In Romania, despite the high political stakes of the 6 December general elections, the turnout was around 33%. In Portugal, the turnout for the presidential elections in January was 39%.

Generally speaking, COVID-19 has been an accelerator of digitalisation, more specifically for online education and teleconferences. It is only logical that it should become an accelerator for e-voting – or at least introduce new options for voting from a distance.

We are curious to see what other countries might learn from e-voting champions such as Estonia.  Each Estonian citizen possesses an electronic chip-enabled ID card, which allows the user to vote over the internet. In the 2019 parliamentary elections in Estonia, 43.75% of all participating voters cast their vote online.

Indirect e-vote (using machines in polling stations) is an obvious step in the right direction for those who have used only paper ballots, but it looks outdated already. In Bulgaria, voting machines will be partly introduced for the first time, but the same detractors who are against the vaccines say that the machines will be an instrument for mass contamination…

Voting with a mask should not be a second-class vote. Let’s indeed use our imagination to prepare for the coming votes – for the sake of democracy.

And of course, COVID-19 will impact voting results because voters will judge the politicians by the way they had handled the crisis. But that is a different matter. It could be the subject of another Brief.

A message from FACEBOOK: Facebook partnerships to fight against COVID-19. Working together is more important than ever in the fight against COVID-19. In Spain, the World Bank is using Facebook’s Disease Prevention Maps to forecast needs for COVID-19 testing and hospital beds. Learn more about how we’re collaborating to keep communities safe and informed at .

The Roundup

The European Commission has launched a new bio-defence preparedness plan designed to bolster Europe’s preparedness against the looming threat of new coronavirus strains, which includes moves to fast-track future variant vaccines.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned member states that getting supplies of COVID vaccines from illicit trade entails considerable risks for human health.

NATO’s defence ministers for the first time discussed Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s reform proposals.  Some members, however, let show they were rather sceptical of the submission.

The political crisis in Georgia is deepening as Prime Minister Georgi Gakharia stepped down on Thursday, citing his disagreement with the team on the court decision to arrest the main opposition party leader. Western allies are concerned about the deepening political turmoil in the country.

Russia continues to be the ‘primary threat’ to the EU in cyberspace, presenting intensifying dangers in terms of online espionage, cyberattacks, and also a likely turn to deepfake technology in the near future, a new report from the Estonian intelligence services says.

A tougher approach with partners and more focus on climate and labour rights will be key pillars of the new EU trade policy outlined by the European Commission.

After international stakeholders came together on 9 February to discuss new solidarity-based development models, the French government presented a text to increase development aid to 0.55% of the country’s wealth by 2022.

Raising pressure on the Hungarian authorities to implement a June 2020 ruling of the EU top court, the European Commission notified Budapest it considers it to be in breach of the treaties.

Renovations, sustainable mobility, urban greening. These are just some areas in which the Committee of the Regions’ (CoR) wants to work more closely with the European Commission.

Look out for…

  • Munich Security Conference 2021 virtual event with Biden, Merkel, Macron & Co.
  • High-Level EU Presidency conference on the EU’s Strategic Compass

Views are the author’s

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