September 15 marks the International Day of Democracy. Introduced as a global day by the United Nations in 2007, it seeks to advocate and promote the principles of democracy worldwide and raise the awareness of the values it enshrines. Democracy is a dynamic concept. The way democracy is practiced evolves over time, as are the challenges democracy is facing. That is why today, we, the Ambassadors of the European Union and its Member States want to reiterate the importance of democracy, to remind of the need to defend its principles and to reflect on the continuing efforts to adapt and improve democratic institutions and practices.

Today, the citizens of most countries worldwide have opted to organise their political system based on democratic principles. Elections are a vital part of democracy as they ensure rule by the people who delegate their power to their elected representatives. Those representatives are in turn vowing to ensure good governance and rule of law. Crucially, they are accountable to people who elected them. Functioning representative parliaments and free and professional media are the essential for this accountability of elected representatives and governments to the electorate.

Democracy is one of the core values of the European Union; we practice our rights through regular elections both at individual Member State level and also at the Union level. The elections to the European Parliament in 2019 were the second-largest democratic exercise in the world seeking views of 400 million citizens. At the same time, with every European election, discussions arise on how to further improve the democratic process and its institutions on European level.

The European Union is not only focusing on democracy within its own borders. The promotion and support of democracy is a key element of its foreign policy. For instance, to support the electoral processes elsewhere in the world, the EU deploys Election Observation Missions (EOMs) offering a comprehensive and impartial assessment of electoral processes. In addition, EOMs can enhance transparency and accountability as they produce recommendations aiming to improve future elections and strengthen democratic institutions.

In Pakistan, upon the invitation of the government, the EU so far has deployed four observation missions since 2002. The latest general elections demonstrated the determination and a clear commitment to democracy by the people of Pakistan. While some of the recommendations of previous observation missions had been implemented in the meantime, the EOM of 2018 put forward another set of thirty recommendations to further improve electoral processes and framework. It is encouraging to see that several recommendations are reflected in the Third Strategic Plan of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

However, other recommendations still are pending. Among those is the need to ensure a full level playing field for women: registration of women, women representatives both in parliaments and media. Not only do women constitute the majority in the country (as anywhere else). Many observers argue that a stronger involvement of women in political decision making leads to more accountability, better use of public resources, as well as stability and peace.

We recognise the difficulties in implementation of some of the EOM’s recommendations. Nonetheless, as Pakistan is approaching half way to the next general elections it is paramount to keep the momentum and maintain the efforts to further strengthen the electoral system and practice. In this context, the proactive role of the Election Commission of Pakistan must be recognised.

Pakistan has benefited from the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) since 2014. In exchange for duty-free access to European markets, GSP+ beneficiary countries need to demonstrate progress on core international conventions, including inter alia obligations regarding electoral processes. Also, Pakistan and the EU reiterated the commitment to work together on the implementation of electoral reforms in the Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) of 2019. One year after the signature of this wide-ranging, ambitious plan that guides our collaboration, we want to seize the happy opportunity of the International Day of Democracy to confirm our support and reiterate our encouragement to our Pakistani partners to continue their efforts to further strengthen democratic processes and institutions.

This Op-Ed is co-authored by the Ambassadors of the European Union, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Romania.