SHARPEDEM-EU Publication 1, 2024

Ambitions for the Future of EU Democracy Support

Publication date:
Andrea Gawrich, Fabian Schöppner, Rosa Balfour, Daniela Huber, Magdalena Gora, Elena Korosteleva, Nona Mikhelidze, Michelle Pace, Eduard Soler i Lecha and Richard Youngs

SHARPEDEM-EU publication 1 (January 2024)

The state of European and international relations has fundamentally changed since the EU kicked off its ‘democracy promotion’ agenda in the early 1990’s. At that time, expectations over democracy’s future were high (the End of History-paradigm coined by Francis Fukuyama), and democracy-building in the EU appeared vibrant while the EU positioned itself as a ‘normative power’. The assumption was that the Western model of liberal democracy is transferable and attractive for other world regions and that the West needed to disseminate its model externally.

Following increasing tensions between democratic and autocratic trends as well Russia’s globally divisive full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the international liberal order appears to be more fragile: the ‘West’ is fractured and multiple actors have risen to contest the values of Western liberalism. Third party actors include regional powers or international organisations that have to be taken into account when critically assessing the challenges and opportunities for democracy support (e.g., Balfour & Waal 2021; Gawrich & Russo 2017; Gawrich 2017). To adapt to rising geopolitics and waning multilateralism, the EU has constructed narratives of strategic autonomy and European sovereignty which may conflict with global democracy support. Global politics are increasingly framed as a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism (Youngs 2021). Democracy is simultaneously contested in domestic and foreign policy (Góra et al. 2019) and Europe’s relative global weight is in decline, signalling that the EU is currently facing an existential challenge to recast its support for democracy against the background of a multi-order world. Meanwhile, the EU maintains an ambition to enhance its ‘leadership in promoting and protecting human rights and democracy worldwide’ (European Commission 2020, p. 1). This ambition’s litmus test is found not least in how the EU supports democratic politics in its neighbouring countries in North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the South Caucasus. The EU’s democracy support in these regions reveals a long-lasting engagement, which originated in the 1990’s and was cemented in the founding of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2003. While the ENP primarily sought to establish frames for deeper EU cooperation with Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia in the South and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in the East, it failed to support sustainable democratic transformations (e.g., Huber 2020 for the Southern, Korosteleva 2012 for the Eastern Neighbourhood). The contestation of the EU’s democratic politics by its member states poses additional reputational challenges in the neighbourhood, as does its often conflicting objectives between democracy support in neighbouring countries and in pursuing stability concerns (e.g., Soler i Lecha & Woertz 2020).

Authors: Andrea Gawrich (JLU), Fabian Schöppner (JLU), Rosa Balfour (CEF), Daniela Huber (Roma Tre University), Magdalena Gora (JUK), Elena Korosteleva (UoW), Nona Mikhelidze (IAI), Michelle Pace (RUC), Eduard Soler i Lecha (IBEI), Richard Youngs (CEF)