The adoption of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015 -2019 by the Council on the 20th of July has shown once more that democracy support is for the European Institutions -if at all - a simple attachment to its human rights policies.
"Keeping human rights at the heart of the EU agenda"¹ is definitely a needed statement by Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Human rights need to be more visible in EU policies and mainstreamed coherently through all EU foreign actions. Especially, the intention to strengthen the dialogue between local civil society, social partners, authorities and parliaments can be noted positively. A novelty is the envisaged engagement with political parties to foster political pluralism. Nevertheless, while applauding on its human rights policies, the EU’s vision on democracy support falls short.
What seems to be forgotten is that the support of human rights and democracy, even though often interlinked, still needs different working approaches. Democracy support can be pushed through various thematic accesses. However, directly fostering democratic transition processes should not be neglected. Therefore, different policies and instruments have to be applied.
Sadly, the EU Action Plan keeps low on its direct democracy support ambitions. The Action Plan does not include a separate standing-alone objective on how to foster democratic standards in partner countries. Democracy support is rather subordinated under various human rights objectives, and even falls short of already determined democracy support goals which are formulated, for example, in the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
The commitment to improve inclusive, participatory and representative democracy in third countries can be achieved when democracy support is not limited to the form of government, but rather the support to a democratic political culture and vivid democratic society with the needs of citizens at the centre of politics including active civil society as well as accountable political actors.
Inclusive and participatory democracy can be supported in different ways. On the one hand, through directly working together with the respective institutions and partner organisations such as parliaments, administrations, civil society organisations (CSO), political parties, the media and legal authorities. On the other hand, by supporting democratic principles and standards such as participatory and civic rights through thematic accesses in gender democracy, environment and trade policies.
Thus, a single democracy support approach is highly needed. EU democracy support has to be an explicit goal in the EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy and formulated as a direct target, which basis is provided in the 2009 Council Conclusion on EU’s support to democracy. Only then Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty is reflected fairly in the EU guidelines and policies. If indeed the universality of human rights in partnership with third countries should be promoted, you need to talk about democratic standards. Democratic societies with democratic institutions and actors are fundamental to flourish human rights.
To combat, for example, the worldwide tendency on shrinking space of CSOs, a let alone human rights approach will only be partially effective. Precisely as civil society organisations are important actors in transition processes. Worth noting, the EU Action Plan has included activities on monitoring and assessing the legal and financial environment for CSOs. This is a needed step forward and a good point to start. However, enabling environment includes administrative, judicial and political conditions such as participation at the political life as well. Besides observatory activities and diplomatic interventions concrete actions are required such as conditioning development aid to reforms in enhancing democratic standards and the provision of enabling space for CSOs.
To be effective, democracy support has to be, in the same way as human rights support, mainstreamed through all EU financial instruments, and coherence between different EU approaches needs to be guaranteed. This implies that Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, who currently pushes for greater inclusion of EU human rights policies on the EU agenda, should further deepen the democracy support component within his mandate, too. In fact, without a clearly formulated mandate on democracy support the EU will further lose credibility.
The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung together with other stakeholders has urged for having democracy support to be included prominently in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. Let’s hope that with the mid-term review in 2017 and the update of the EU Action Plan in 2019, the EU Institutions are ready to stand for their democratic principles inside and outside of Europe.
See HERE the contribution by ENoP, EPD, IDEA and EED to the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.