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Quiet (or not?) before the storm: how European countries' election silence contrast

Eurovision Debate 2024 with Lead Candidates.- Arrival of the candidates
Eurovision Debate 2024 with Lead Candidates.- Arrival of the candidates Copyright Luis MILLAN/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
Copyright Luis MILLAN/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
By Romane Armangau
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From total blackout two days before the poll to full freedom of speech, take a tour of European legislation on the electoral silence period.

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Periods of silence in political campaigning during a given period before polling, or election 'purdahs', are common across EU member states. Such bans affect different media, which can no longer share information about candidates or comment on opinion polls. The goal is to give voters a period of reflection without being influenced by external elements.  

According to a European Parliament study, most voters already know in advance whom they will vote for, but younger voters, without established voting habits, are more likely to make a last-minute decision. In some countries, the decision is made in the days leading up to the vote or even on the day itself. Among the countries with the latest decision-making are Finland (30%), Sweden (33%), and the Netherlands (42%).

Of the twenty-seven countries in the bloc, nine impose no restrictions on candidates' speech in the media or the commentary on opinion polls: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Sweden. For the remaining eighteen, the media involved, the type of content, and the length of the silence period vary.   

The strictest countries

Countries concerned: Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain 

Italians will vote for their 76 members of the European Parliament on June 8 and 9. They have the longest reflection period, as the law on equal treatment prohibits sharing opinion poll results two weeks before the elections, starting on May 25. All TV, radio, and online media must also respect a silence period on the elections from midnight on Thursday, June 6. 

In Slovakia, the silence period also starts on Thursday for a vote on Saturday, June 8. From that moment, all media are prohibited from "sending or publishing information about candidates, political parties, or coalitions in their favour or against them in word, writing, sound, or image." 

In Portugal, opinion polls, candidate statements, and all election-related content cannot be broadcast on any media from “midnight on the second day before the day designated for the elections,” meaning Friday midnight for a vote on Sunday, June 9. 

Spaniards will have access to the latest poll estimates until Tuesday, June 4, five days before the elections, while candidates can express themselves in the media and on social networks until the eve of the elections, meaning Saturday at midnight. 

24 hours of silence, the average delay

Countries concerned: Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and Romania 

Most countries have a 24-hour rule of silence imposed on candidates and media about elections related contents and opinion polls – but with some variations in their application. 

In Cyprus, since May 26, opinion polls are not allowed to be published due to a seven-day silence period imposed on them. While in most countries the prohibition is imposed on all media, in Greece it does not concern online publications. In Ireland, it is not regulated by an “electoral law” per se, but a silence period is imposed in the Guidelines of the Broadcasting Authority. In Romania, the blackout period does not apply from midnight on the day before the elections but from 7 am on the day itself. 

In France, a “période de réserve” forbids high-rank officials such as ministers or other public agents from expressing an opinion or delivering communications about a week before the elections (May 27), with some exceptions. For the candidates, they are allowed to campaign until Saturday midnight. 

Restrictions only on opinion polls

Countries concerned: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, and Slovenia 

In these countries, candidates are allowed to campaign and speak in the media; however, results of opinion polls cannot be made public at least on the day of the European elections – this is the case for Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovenia. The period is longer for the Czech Republic, where polls won’t be available from June 5 for a vote on Friday, June 7, to the next day, and in Luxembourg, opinion polls are forbidden five days before the elections, meaning June 4. 

Limitations and electoral reform

Silence periods can be difficult to apply from one country to another, especially in the age of social media and globalized connections. Indeed, polls can be published online from another country and are therefore not regulated. It is also difficult to regulate and moderate social networks, where even if candidates don’t express themselves, disinformation may be prevalent. 

The European Parliament attempted to bring more clarity by voting on a resolution in May 2022, calling for electoral reform at the European Union level to unify rules regarding the electoral period and silence, as well as to implement transnational lists. This reform must be evaluated by EU Member States and is unlikely to be approved quickly. 

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