Soon after the Covid-19 crisis broke out, International IDEA started to engage with the European Union (EU) to ensure it would include a democracy focus in its global pandemic response. Ultimately, this led to EU policies and EU representatives at the highest levels underlining the need to stand up for democracy during the pandemic. The effects of the crisis on the functioning of democracy have thus become a central tenet of EU action.
In November 2020, the EU adopted its new Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan, which details its plans to support democracy globally. Covid-19 is a recurring theme throughout the text. In December 2020, leading newspaper Politico highlighted the greatest achievement of European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen as her support to International IDEA’s ‘Global Monitor of Covid-19’s impact on Democracy and Human Rights’. Within a short period of time, the relationship between democracy and Covid-19 became a crucial topic for the EU.
This change in practice can be attributed to the efforts of many democracy actors that engage with the EU, but several International IDEA initiatives importantly contributed to this shift. In April, Sweden hosted its first International IDEA presentation on the pandemic’s impact on democracy for a group of 15 EU Member States. This helped put the topic on the agenda of those negotiating the EU’s Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan. In June, International IDEA launched its Call to Defend Democracy campaign, which received extensive coverage in EU-focused media.
Co-signatories of the campaign included all major European democracy support organizations, as well as many former European heads of state. This subsequently paved the way for the EU to fund International IDEA’s Global Monitor of Covid-19’s impact on democracy and human rights. In July, European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen launched the Monitor.
In October, members of the European Parliament praised the tool during its presentation to the Subcommittee on Human Rights. In September, International IDEA, the European Parliament and other partners co-organized a series of seven pandemic-focused high-level events to mark International Democracy Week at the EU. There, President of the European Parliament David Sassoli highlighted the importance of democratic systems in overcoming pandemic-related challenges, as did European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova. The events attracted a total of nearly 2,000 viewers.
In autumn, the European Parliament referred to International IDEA research in its Covid-19 debates, and representatives of the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission participated in expert roundtables on Special Voting Arrangements during the pandemic.