European Democracy Support Annual Review 2021

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Publication Date January 2022
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This study offers a first annual review of European democracy-support policies. While there are now many widely consulted indices and rankings of democracy, there is no equivalent that measures efforts to support democratic norms internationally. This review aims to correct this imbalance and is intended to begin a series of yearly overviews of European democracy-support policies. It offers information on the efforts of the European Union (EU) and European states to foster democracy internationally, and it also dissects the limitations to such efforts. Complementing the several indices of democracy, the review aims to foster more informed reflection on policies designed to support democratic norms.

The review disaggregates the different strands of policy that are relevant to international democracy. It begins by summarizing the general global context during 2021 and how this conditioned the relative priority that the EU and European governments attached to democracy support. It then details European funding for democracy projects around the world, instances in which the EU imposed sanctions or other restrictive measures in relation to concerns over democracy and human rights, and the place of democracy support within security interventions. Across the different categories, the review looks at European democracy-support efforts globally and within Europe.

The review identifies key developments in 2021. The EU and several of its member states launched new funding arrangements to support democracy projects around the world. There were modest increases in the amount of money devoted to democracy and human rights by some governments but decreases by others. The EU stepped up its use of democracy and human-rights sanctions while still refraining from exerting strongly critical pressure in relation to many notable cases of democratic regression and serious human-rights crises. It also began to deploy a wider range of democracy-support efforts within its own borders. The wider international context was both boon and bane. In particular, the new U.S. administration gave a fillip to European democracy support while the COVID-19 pandemic was a complicating factor. The year saw some strengthened EU-level commitments to supporting and defending democracy, but also signs of democracy and human rights slipping down the order of European geopolitical priorities.

The review covers the actions of EU institutions, collective EU-level interventions, and member-state policies as well as those non-EU European states active in democracy support. There is no objectively correct definition of what does and does not count as democracy support, and this uncertainty is reflected in the analysis. The review looks at the quantitative and qualitative elements of European strategies and reflects on both of these in its concluding assessment.

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