Rechtszaak tegen Nederland uitgesteld over te vroege bekendmaking uitslag Europese verkiezingen (en)

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - In order to avoid a head-to-head confrontation with the Dutch Presidency, the European Commission has decided to postpone a decision on a court case against the Netherlands over European election results.

The Commission had in May threatened the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency, with a court case if immediately published results of its European Parliament elections on 10 June- three days before the last votes in the EU were cast on the 13th at 22.00.

But the Dutch ignored the warnings by the Commission and released their election results without delay on the evening of 10 June.

The Brussels executive has claimed repeatedly that the Dutch move was illegal, referring to the European Elections Act which obliges member states to keep their election results under embargo until the last ballot box in the EU closes.

The Commission has now decided to postpone its decision on whether or not to take the Dutch to court until next December at the earliest - when the Dutch presidency will be near its end.

A Commission spokesman qualified the move by the Commission to the EUobserver as "political", referring to a special meeting of national electoral experts in November which the Commission wants to await first.

"We want to contribute to a good political atmosphere by first discussing the unclarity over the Elections Act with member states, before taking any legal steps."

But a reliable Commission source said that the "reality" of the Dutch holding the EU presidency also played an important role in the EU executive's decision to shelve the court case.

The EU executive looks set to refrain from any moves against the Dutch until they have handed the EU presidency to Luxembourg, on 1 January 2005.

Embargo broken

The embargo as safeguarded by the Commission under the European Elections Act from 1976 is meant to prevent the results in one country influencing those in another.

But the Dutch claim that under an amendment introduced in 2002, local authorities are entitled to release their results without delay.

In practice, in last June's elections it turned out that all Dutch municipalities immediately released their results, which resulted in more than 99 percent of the votes counted on the evening of 10 June.

Local authorities in Denmark, Germany and Sweden also broke the Commission's embargo, but these violations have attracted less attention as the Danes, Germans and Swedes voted only on the last day of the elections (13 June).

New Elections Act

The EU executive is to present proposals to the European Parliament and member states in November, in order to fill legal voids in the Elections Act before the next European elections in 2009 - as well as to avoid future spats with member states.

Although the Commission is keen to safeguard the principle of the embargo, the spokesman said: "Election results are primarily an issue for the member states and of course most of all for the European Parliament".

But in the upcoming discussions on revision of the Elections Act, the Dutch are not likely to bend easily, as they consider transparency with regard to election results as a national tradition.

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