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Europe (still) hesitant to provide democracy aid

Kinga Brudzinska / Feb 2023

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Defending democracy and the rules-based international order was a defining feature of 2022. According to the  Annual Review of European Democracy Support, a report recently published by the European Democracy Hub, a joint initiative of Carnegie Europe and the European Partnership for Democracy,  while Russia’s attack on Ukraine has indeed reinvigorated a necessity to protect and strengthen democracy around the world, it has not yet translated yet into expansion of the external democracy programs in Europe per se, both on the EU level and among member states.

On the EU level, the war was a catalyst for significant developments in several policy areas, foremost defence and energy. But its impact on democracy support has been so far rather limited. EU institutions have mostly moved forward with the programmes that had already been in the pipeline. What is more, the EU focused more on internal rather than external aspects of democratization policy in 2022. It included, among others, a toughened 2022 Rule of Law Report, activities related to follow up on the Conference on the Future of Europe and a new European Media Freedom Act.

Most importantly, 2022 saw some significant moves toward democracy-related conditionality being applied against EU member states such as Hungary and Poland. The European Commission adopted a tougher approach as it sought ways to hold back funding to these two countries in response to their governments continued violation of rule of law. Apart from the rule of law conditionality mechanism, the EU has frozen the funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to Hungary and Poland. Both Budapest and Warsaw must reach certain milestones in 2023 so the EU money that aims at supporting the way out of the Covid-19 crisis can be finally released. This is an important step as the illiberal political developments in Hungary and Poland might keep sapping EU’s credibility in providing democracy support and defending human rights abroad. And it is still to be seen how Brussels bubble reacts to the “Qatargate” corruption scandal that came to light at the end of the year. It is important as it can also have a detrimental spillover effect on the European Parliament’s image and its work in external democracy support.

When it comes to member states, some of the governments agreed and developed new democracy strategies during the year. Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic and Portugal saw some positive developments for democracy support policies in 2022. The war also shifted the balance of influence among member states within the EU. It gave Central and Eastern European (CEE) states more voice. Many CEE states positioned themselves more firmly as champions of democracy support within EU foreign and security policy, stating that “preserving democracy is also part of security policy“. Poland, for example, has been vocal about the war being “a test of strength for the West”. Paradoxically, at the same time, Poland, was the target of upgraded EU measures against democratic backsliding at home, as mentioned above.

Simultaneously some member states expanded their external democracy programmes in 2022. But, in general, the picture relating to democracy funding remained opaque. As noted in the Annual Review last year, few governments in Europe have clearly structured democracy funding arrangements, and this deficiency continued in 2022. Almost none was able to specify how much it had to spend on democracy in its external funds during the year (it is, to some extent, possible through OECD data on development cooperation profiles but that takes two years to be compiled).

Many European governments insist that democracy aid is difficult to define, which is true. The concept still lacks a firm definition. Yet, yet the United States pre-allocates precise and identifiable amounts for democracy, and funding for democracy promotion assistance is deeply integrated into U.S. foreign policy institutions (it does not mean though that the U.S. model does not have its critics at home). This shows that the difference in European and American approach to promotion of democracy aboard persists.

While the EU and its member states, are more in favour of helping to overcome poverty and to advance global development (for a reason the EU is collectively, the biggest donor for international aid in the world), they are much more hesitant to provide a meaningful funding for supporting democracy abroad (this would include, supporting good governance, electoral process and political competition, strengthening civil society or promoting rule of law and human rights abroad). Even though the EU does not have exclusive competency over development policy, member states’ democratization policy, which is often part of it, have seen some evolution in the past decade.

One example is a creation and operationalization of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), modelled largely on American National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that allows for joining forces and amplifying member states democracy aid abroad. Even though the EED has not transformed the essence of European action in this field, it boosted European democracy aid, and contributed to more rapid European response to the rapidly changing environment in the EU vicinity. In short, Europeans still prefer dialogue-based cooperation (even with authoritarian and autocratic governments), rather than openly supporting democratic transitions in the U.S. style. This was visible especially in 2022 when the EU strived for building new alliances with nondemocratic regimes to buttress its strategic options in the fraught, post-invasion/post-war political context.

So does European support for democracy have a future?

Even though small is scale and slow in pace, European democracy support has been evolving over time. But it will still take some time before truly European democracy promotion assistance emerges. Until then collaborative approach make sense and it can add to what member states do on national level. As in other policy areas, member states on their own can do much less, and their priorities do not get amplified; together anything is possible.

European and international democratic cooperation will be tested at the next Summit for Democracy set for 29-30 March 2023. It will be co-hosted by Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United States, and Zambia. At the first summit in December 2021, European countries made commitments to strengthen democracy domestically and internationally, but their commitments under, and new funds for, the summit process were more modest than those of the United States. The second will be a chance to boost European commitments and to deepen democratic coordination around the world.

 

 

European Democracy Support Annual Review 2022 provides an empirical overview of European democracy support policies in 2022. It covers policies, strategies, and initiatives at the level of the European Union (EU) as well as those of its member states and of non-EU European countries active in democracy support (Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom). It presents information on European efforts to defend and strengthen democracy around the world while highlighting their shortcomings. The aim is to inform debates about policies geared toward upholding democracy internationally. To learn more please visit here

 

 

Kinga Brudzinska

Kinga Brudzinska

February 2023

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