As the May’s European elections are slowly approaching, EU institution have been intensively testing their own cyber systems to help prevent any potential outside attacks or breaches into their systems. Together with observers from the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Agency for Cybersecurity, over 80 representatives from EU governments have participated in a recent (5 April) exercise. Rainer Wieland, Vice-President of the European Parliament and German EPP MEP and many others voiced their concern about the dependability of the upcoming elections should cybersecurity be compromised. “A cyber-attack on elections could dramatically undermine the legitimacy of our institutions,” Mr. Wieland said. “The legitimacy of elections is based on the understanding that we can trust in their results.”
However, when asking senior EU officials about if the electronic voting systems themselves would be examined as well, they confirmed that testing such as this would not take place, because election systems are in his words in “a member state competence” and it was rather the responsibility of states themselves to ensure that any electronic voting systems used in the upcoming EU elections were watertight. Despite previous concerns, electronic voting appliances will only be used in Estonia for May’s ballots, though it could also be deployed elsewhere across the bloc, if needed.
Electronic voting systems were not met with a warm welcome in Netherlands, which abandoned the whole idea of electronic voting back in 2007 after numerous security issues went public. Germany abandoned it two years after, in 2009, after the Federal Constitutional Court found that electronic voting was unconstitutional, and also pointed out a huge public distrust in regards to this issue. France, wanting to try out the online voting as well, has also had a numerous setbacks. Internet voting was permitted in 2003 when French citizens living in the US were allowed to vote remotely in an election for representatives to the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad.
However, French authorities in 2017 announced that they would be shutting down Internet voting entirely. The reasoning behind it was the sudden rise of fear, similar to the one in US, after the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s networks during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Though the recent testing did not specifically focus on the resilience of any electronic voting systems themselves, this exercise allowed member states to examine the possibilities to enhance cooperation between relevant authorities at a national level and cross-border in the case of a cyber attack.