It has been legitimately said that 2017 is the year of European elections. Truly the three biggest European countries (France, United Kingdom, and Germany) are facing important general elections. In addition, other countries, smaller but nevertheless important, also have or had their own elections during this year. All these elections come amidst a heightened level of threat from terrorism globally. As electoral campaigns unfold under the shadow of a potential terrorist attack, it is without a doubt that people’s choices are influenced by this climate of insecurity.
We have already seen security threats influencing electoral campaigns in France and in the Netherlands. The terrorist attack of April led all Presidential candidates to cancel their last meetings 3 days before the elections. Moreover, there are worries of a lower voter turnout due to fears over an attack on polling stations. With the election being extremely close, the polls varying widely and a lot of people being undecided until the very last minute, the stakes are too high and even a small difference in turnout or one cancelled campaign rally could determine the electoral outcome. In the Netherlands, it is possible that Geert Wilder’s underperformance was to an extent due to the sparsity of his public appearances. The Dutch populist is said to have cancelled various campaign rallies due to security concerns and given the importance populists attribute to talking directly to the people this might have damaged Wilders significantly in the polls.
The radical extremists’ ability to influence electoral outcomes is one of the gravest consequences of terrorism. By creating a climate of fear and insecurity terrorism can hinder democratic procedures. Although European countries have taken extensive measures to prevent terrorist attacks, their ability to do so during an elections’ day with thousands of polling stations is arguably limited. Therefore, the current state of European politics and the fact that multiple countries are going through elections make the need for increased European cooperation more evident.
Countries could ameliorate the problem of thin resources on election days by increasing the common pooling of security resources. Firstly, it is imperative to enhance information sharing and potentially create a European Intelligence Agency which would collect information from all national agencies and act on it. Such an initiative is yet to be seen despite proclamations from European leaders. Secondly, countries could share police and military personnel on election days. European countries don’t have elections on the same day. Therefore, they could all send troops or police officers to assist the French this month, the Germans later, and anyone else in the future. Such cooperation schemes could help enhance security on election days when the whole country is a target.
The past two elections of 2017 showed terrorists’ ability to influence electoral outcomes. As the elections in the UK and Germany also approach it is only a matter of time before terrorists influence more electoral outcomes. European leaders need to take steps to ensure that citizens can vote free of any fear. If citizens are exercising their right to vote or participate in electoral campaigns under fear for their lives we cannot fully claim that there was a free and fair election. Once again it is time for European leaders to set aside their aspirations to hold onto their national power in the interest of democracy and the security of their citizens.