To mark the UN International Day of Democracy some of the main democracy practitioners – The European Network of Political Foundations, the European Partnership for Democracy, The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the European Endowment for Democracy – discussed approaches to supporting democratisation processes with EU policy makers in Brussels.
How can we make a real difference through our democracy assistance efforts? What can the EU do better? What are the challenges that democracy activists are facing today? These were some of the questions discussed by the panellists. Annemie Neyts Uyttenbroeck, ALDE MEP, emphasised “Almost all election campaigns promise change. Change however takes time. Democracy as we know it is a process. It requires time and patience. However, patience is in short supply nowadays.”
Regarding the support of local actors, the panellists agreed that especially political parties have been neglected and far too little attention is paid to strengthening them. “Political parties bring people together; they articulate solutions, set the agenda, develop their political leaders”, highlighted Martin Ängeby, Chairman of the ENoP Working Group of Democracy Support. Challenges such as the sometimes high sensitivity required when working with political parties can be overcome through the indirect support for example through the political foundations. The latter are not new to the field, but have been supporting political parties for decades. While there is a lot of experience in this field at the national level, the same does not apply to the European one.
Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), “the youngest member in the area of democracy support” highlighted the importance of European values and called for courage in addressing the challenges that lie ahead of us.
What can the EU do better? Marciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service confirmed that political parties cannot be ignored in the EU democracy support and reminded that “engaging with political parties does not equal regime change”. Popowski furthermore called for a broader understanding of democracy support: “election observation while being a traditional and important area of democracy engagement is not sufficient. Our engagement doesn’t start, nor does it stop on Election Day”.
Tom Carothers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reminded of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, which marked a great acceleration in the field of democracy support. The democracy field nowadays has changed a lot since then. There are “more actors, there is more money and more geographical coverage. The ship is larger, more powerful; we have more tools, more people. However, we are also entering into new murky waters”. The sense of momentum is lost; there is a shadow on the Western model of democracy. Nevertheless, in the face of these challenges we should not lower our ambitions, but find new smarter ways to engage in democracy support. We have to think about how to react in difficult, closing environments. We have to stay engaged in partner countries, also when there is no momentum. Long-term engagement is one of the key characteristics of the work of political foundations.
Foto source: FNF Europe