Source: EC Audiovisual Library
This year, the International Day of Democracy comes at a time of growing unease virtually all around the world. Recent years have seen an alarming tendency towards the contestation of democracy as a way of living and participation. Alternative ways of public and political expression such as authoritarianism, populism and polarization, disinformation and manipulation of electoral processes, systemic discrimination, xenophobia, nationalist agendas, autocratic models of governance have gradually undermined the foundations of democracy. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the effects of this democratic erosion therefore plunging public trust levels and widening the gap between citizens and their representatives.
Nearly everywhere in the world, medical staff, public authorities, scientists and experts are joining efforts to ensure proper treatment of patients, enforce containment strategies and help advance knowledge on the virus and vaccine testing. However, these efforts often come at the price of less democratic oversight, less public accountability and less legal transparency. A swift and effective response is needed from national governments, the international community and civil society alike in order to strike a fair balance between public health and a functioning democracy. International fora such as the EU and the Council of Europe have repeatedly called for democratic safeguards attached to public health measures.
Source: EC Audiovisual Library
Democracy is one of the main areas of institutional cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe. Our recently adopted priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe feature democracy as one of the three main pillars of our joint action along with human rights and the rule of law. Since the launching of the first joint programme between the EU and the Council of Europe in 1993, we have strived to advance compliance with democratic norms, human rights and the rule of law on the European continent and elsewhere in the world. Our legal and technical cooperation is first aimed at enhancing convergence of democratic standards across Europe, reasserting commitment to freedom and justice, and ensuring a safe, politically stable, and economically viable environment in the EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood areas.
Our flagship joint initiatives – Horizontal Facility and the Partnership for Good Governance, amounting to more than €58m of budget – cover a wide range of reform and capacity-building actions and are directed at the overall legal and institutional stabilization of the EU’s strategic proximities, the Western Balkans, Turkey and the Eastern Partnership region. Other more specific joint programmes include the promotion of democratic culture and education (Democratic and Inclusive School Culture in Operation (DISCO), Strengthening Democratic Culture in Basic Education), local governance (Promoting good governance and Roma empowerment at local level (ROMACTED), electoral law reforms (Support to Reforms of Electoral Legislation and Practice and Regional Human Rights Instruments and Mechanisms) non-discrimination and the participation of minorities and vulnerable groups (Roma Women’s Access to Justice (JUSTROM).
At the same time, together with the Council of Europe, we have actively championed a model of open diplomacy and enhanced multilateralism which rests upon a shared respect for and observance of fundamental human rights and democracy. On the International Day of Democracy we redouble our commitment towards the protection and consolidation of democracy across Europe and around the world and, together with the Council of Europe, we will work to bring democracy closer to our citizens, in ways ever more inclusive, transparent and fair. As the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Vice-President Dubravka Šuica have pointed out in their joint statement ‘the European Union is redoubling its efforts to support those who are working to defend and build democracy, to encourage democratic participation and inclusion regardless of gender or background, to ensure institutional checks and balances, and to hold decision makers to account. We take a leading role in promoting and protecting democracy around the world.’