Tonga and the EU

Democracy worldwide: EU sets out the challenges and the ways to protect it

14/10/2019 - 15:23
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The value and virtue of democracy is being challenged more than ever around the world. Even though global levels of democracy remain high, there is growing trend towards authoritarianism. 

In a meeting on 14th October 2019 in Luxembourg all 28 EU Foreign Ministers reiterated the importance of democracy worldwide through "Conclusions on Democracy". The Ministers agreed that the challenges to democracy are multi-fold and need to be countered urgently and comprehensively. Democracy is a universal value, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art.21) and a fundamental principle of the European Union. Promoting and defending democracy is also in the EU's interest.

As stated in the EU Global Strategy, supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law externally strengthens the rules-based, multilateral system that the EU and its like-minded partners seek to foster. It enables the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and creates the conditions for sustainable peace and security. Democracy also contributes to building inclusive and resilient societies capable of creating opportunities for their populations, which in turn will help to addresses forced displacement and reduce push factors for irregular migration. 

The Ministers agreed to further develop a common and practical EU response to promote positive trends and to address new and shared challenges to democracy.

New and growing challenges to democracy

Across the world, people continue to demonstrate the strength and power of their desire for a stronger voice and their inclusion in decision-making processes. Time and again, on all continents, democracy proves its resilience. However, new and growing challenges to democracy have emerged. 

These include democratic processes and institutions being undermined: through the extension of constitutional term limits, interference with judiciaries, reducing media pluralism, limiting the legal and political space for opposition parties and through appearing to be democratic in order to legitimise autocratic regimes.

There are low levels of trust in institutions and politicians due to growing social and economic inequalities, corruption and a lack of inclusivity. There is a shrinking democratic space for civil society, including human rights defenders and democracy activists and limitations are being placed on free and independent media both online and offline. Methods used to reduce the democratic space include violence, persecution and intimidation, restrictive legislation, limits on registration and financing, and reprisals.  

Online technology is being manipulated, for example, using disinformation campaigns, state-sponsored restrictions and shut downs, hate speech and the avoidance of effective scrutiny over the financing of political messaging. The internet has been a positive force for democratisation, but the economic model of digital platforms has also contributed to the challenges faced.

What does the EU intend to do? 

As democracy building processes take place in a variety of contexts, the EU institutions and Member States will promote positive trends and counter negative ones with an emphasis on the following: 

The EU will strive to implement the 2030 Agenda and notably SDG 10 and 16 to holistically promote and sustain democratic governance, human rights, the rule of law, accountability and participatory, inclusive decision-making and to assure coherence with the EU's efforts to address inequality. Combating inequality is crucial for rebuilding trust in democracy and its institutions. 

The EU will promote the full participation of all, without discrimination and, in this context, to make particular and special efforts to support a greater participation and representation of women and young persons and their interests in public and political life. 

The EU will strengthen and support the capacities of parliaments and (in a non-partisan manner) political parties, on national and sub-national levels, to play their essential role in democratic societies. 

It will strengthen and support international and local civil society and its enabling environment, as an essential pillar of a pluralist and inclusive democracy. Special attention will be given to supporting human rights defenders and in particular, women human rights defenders. 

The EU will reinforce efforts to support and protect free and independent media, offline and online, including through promoting the safety of journalists and supporting an enabling environment. 

It will support efforts to strengthen the rule of law, democratic integrity and accountability through reinforcing the separation of powers, access to justice and the right to a fair trial for all, fighting impunity and combating corruption. 

A woman votes in 2018´s Malian presidential elections, monitored by an EU Electoral Observation Mission.

The EU will support and promote civic education and online media literacy, as a necessary medium and long-term contribution to the resilience of today's democracies and promote the use of online technologies in strengthening democratic participation, accountability and access to information. 

It will support countries in their efforts to ensure that the rules governing elections and democracy offline can be applied effectively online, building on the EU's own efforts in this regard, including the Commission's Electoral Package and the European Cooperation network on elections, the Action Plan against Disinformation, Code of Practice on Disinformation, as well as the Council of Europe's Recommendation on standards for e-voting and the practices developed within the G7's rapid response mechanism. 

The EU will promote increasing the inclusiveness and credibility of electoral processes through EU election observation, support to domestic electoral observers and through strengthening the collective efforts needed to support and encourage the follow-up of the recommendations of EU and OSCE electoral missions and the addressing of new challenges to electoral observation, also working with the international election observation community. 

It will strengthen the already close co-ordination with multilateral, international and regional organisations, building strong global partnerships for supporting democracy and implementing the targets of SDG 16. 

It will promote greater transparency of democratic processes, particularly of the financing of political and issue-based campaigning by different actors. 

It will encourage and support the work of the European Endowment for Democracy and other organisations. 

Finally the EU will strengthen the promotion and public communication on the value of democracy as a global and universal public good. 

EU Foreign Ministers also reaffirmed the principles of its 2009 Conclusions on Democracy Support and recalled the 2012 EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy and subsequent Action Plans on Human Rights and Democracy, as well as the lessons learnt from the EU's experience over the last decade of working to support democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law across the world. The Council also noted the relevance of its 2019 Conclusions on securing free and fair elections in Europe and of its 2017 Conclusions on EU engagement with civil society in external relations, and their follow-up. It welcomed the efforts to prepare a new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024.