MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace punished for ‘fake election observation’

European Parliament says Irish MEPs undermined its work to promote democracy

Clare Daly, above, and Mick Wallace  have repeatedly travelled abroad despite the ban on  European Parliament overseas trips during Covid. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Clare Daly, above, and Mick Wallace have repeatedly travelled abroad despite the ban on European Parliament overseas trips during Covid. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace have been penalised in the European Parliament for undermining its work to promote democracy by travelling to Venezuela and Ecuador as unofficial election observers.

Official European Parliament overseas trips have been suspended during the pandemic, but Wallace and Daly have repeatedly travelled abroad including to meet an Iran-backed militia in Iraq in visits that alarmed other MEPs.

Over the weekend, Wallace tweeted that he was watching the Euro 2020 soccer tournament from Damascus, Syria, days after he spoke in defence of Bashar al-Assad in the European Parliament.

In December and April, the two MEPs visited Venezuela and Ecuador in April, describing elections in Venezuela as “very transparent and professional” and could offer lessons to the United States.

Wallace later wrote: “The Gov of Venezuela were elected by the people – we observed the fair elections.” In April, he wrote of travelling to Ecuador “to observe elections”.

There has been increasing discomfort with Wallace and Daly’s foreign policy positions including within their own Left group, where they were recently accused by a Dutch MEP of echoing pro-Putin talking points.

The concern spilled over in recent days as the two were formally sanctioned by the European Parliament’s Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group (DEG) for their Venezuela and Ecuador trips.

“The European Parliament did not observe these elections and no member of the European Parliament had a mandate to observe or comment on proceedings on its behalf,” the letters read.

“We consider your behaviour to be in breach of DEG implementing rules, the rules of the European Parliament, as well as the international standards of election observation.”

Both were banned from taking part in official parliament election missions until the end of the year, and warned that further breaches could lead to exclusion until the end of their terms in 2024.

Official observation missions

The European Parliament spends €45 million a year on official election observation missions, which involve professional campaign observers, a physical presence in polling booths around the country, and months of monitoring work.

The letter warned that the EU’s €45 million-a-year investment in election observation missions could be undermined by unofficial actions, warning that all missions “must be carried out with strict political impartiality at all times”.

MEPs are free to make personal trips but Daly and Wallace’s tweets about the elections did not say they were unofficial observers and the messages were sent from their verified social media accounts identifying them as MEPs.

Daly and Wallace were among 12 MEPs disciplined. Others included far-right politicians who attended votes in Kazakhstan and in the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea.

Bringing sympathetic MEPs to “observe” elections is an increasingly common tactic by regimes that wish to create the impression that they have the imprimatur of the European Parliament.

“People are going abroad and pretending that they represent the parliament, and they don’t. And they give statements that are the opposite to the official position of the parliament. This is a real problem,” a parliament source said.

“Official election observation is a very serious business. You can’t just visit two polling stations and say they were okay. It has a methodology behind it, it’s the work of months, you bring technicians to the country,” the source continued.

“All these fake observers, they really jeopardise the real election observation. In all those tweets, they never said: ‘I’m here in my personal capacity’.”

Rejected accusations

Responding, Daly and Wallace rejected the accusations: “This is a political stunt by the centre right parties in the European Parliament, and we will be challenging it. These were not ‘fake’ election-observation trips.

“We made abundantly clear by public announcement at the time that we were not visiting Ecuador or Venezuela with an official election observation mandate. Our decision to go was not influenced by the governments in question,” they added.

Saying that both had a long interest in the region, and vocally opposed EU and US policy in the region, they went on: “Reportage in western media on Latin American elections has become increasingly unreliable.

“We travelled on our own initiative as part of larger delegations of the European Left to see for ourselves how these elections were conducted, and to build solidarity with left-wing movements in these countries,” they said.

“Although we regret that the Ecuadorian people did not choose Andrés Arauz as their president, we found the elections to be conducted fairly and impartially, and their results are beyond question. We renew our call on the EU to abandon its policy of foreign interference in Latin American democracies, and to respect the decisions of their electorates.”