Natural disasters, pandemics and armed conflicts pose a threat to the organisation and conduct of free and fair elections. These issues will be addressed at a conference to be jointly held by the Swiss Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 9 and 10 May.

Members of parliament from almost all Council of Europe member states will attend the conference together with international experts at the Swiss Parliament Building in Bern. The two main themes of the conference are the challenges of organising elections in times of crisis, and the opportunities – or possible risks – of using digital technologies in addressing these challenges.

The first panel discussion will be devoted to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on elections. Here, panellists will discuss various special voting arrangements and forms of election observation in place during the pandemic.

The second panel discussion will look at how natural disasters distort elections and the role of the international community in supporting electoral authorities facing such difficult situations. The next two sessions will address the impact of armed conflict on the conduct of elections. These issues will first be considered in general terms, covering States' duties and the minimum conditions for holding elections, alternative voting methods, and the holding of elections during hybrid wars (cyber attacks, propaganda, political subversion, etc.). The panellists will then discuss the situation in Ukraine, in particular the conditions for calling elections after martial law is lifted, guaranteeing the vote of displaced persons, and the support that can be provided by the international community.

The second day of the conference will begin with a panel discussion devoted to cyber security. Talks will focus on how to protect the integrity of voting in a digital world. The final discussion of the conference will address the opportunities offered by digital technologies.

A platform for exchange and preparation in advance of the Reykjavik summit

This conference is being held as part of the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of Switzerland joining the Council of Europe. In addition to the above programme, it will provide an opportunity for the Swiss delegation to PACE to exchange views with other representatives of the Council of Europe on the current difficulties facing the organisation.

It is intended that the conclusions of the conference will then be incorporated into the final declaration of the Reykjavik summit, to be held a week later, which brings together the heads of state and government of the Council of Europe member states for the first time since 2005.

The conference will be broadcast live on the websites of the Swiss Parliament and of PACE.

Journalists attending the event are requested to obtain accreditation from the Parliamentary Services.