The EU is not a magic wand for democracy: Evidence from the Global State of Democracy Indices
Since 1993, joining the European Union has been technically contingent on the fulfilment of certain democratic requirements. However, as evidence from the Global State of Democracy Indices (GSoDI) suggests, the EU integration process and the associated technical reforms are not enough on their own to create stronger democracies. For example, Serbia, a frontrunner in the EU accession process in the Balkans, has deteriorated from a mid-range democracy to a hybrid regime since starting negotiations on its accession treaty. Even existing EU member states cannot take democracy for granted, leading some to question whether the EU is still the model of democracy it once was. Developments in member states, such as backsliding in Poland and Hungary, undermine the argument that joining the EU strengthens democracy. Additionally, recent elections in Sweden and Italy raised concerns about surging support for far-right populist parties, which can often open the door to illiberal tendencies. To interact with the graph, click on a country name in the legend to select/deselect it and toggle the country’s scores. You can use the “Select All” button to see all country data, and the “Deselect All” button to clear the view. Hover over the coloured trend lines to find out the average attribute score. Hover over the dotted lines to see the description of the event. According to the GSoDI, both Albania and, Bosnia and Herzegovina are stagnating in Media Integrity, while both North Macedonia and Türkiye are declining in Judicial Independence. Moldova is improving in both forms of checks and balances. In terms of promotion and safeguarding of fundamental rights, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova and Ukraine are each advancing on various dimensions—by 2021, both Kosovo and Ukraine had been able to improve Personal Integrity and Security. On the other hand, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia have each declined in this area—on Civil Liberties and Access to Justice, respectively. Montenegro and Ukraine have each improved in subattributes of Participatory Engagement—Civil Society Participation has flourished in Ukraine, while Electoral Participation has grown in Montenegro. However, space for civil society is in parallel being constrained in Serbia. Part of a bigger process Accession to the EU is part of a much bigger undertaking of democratisation, and there may be some important caveats qualifying the process. First, it is important that domestic political will and public support are present, given the active role taken by candidate countries in negotiating the scope and setting the pace of reform. Candidate countries must drive their own democratic transition rather than submit to externally imposed democratization. Second, unintended negative consequences of EU accession, for example, harmful trends towards executive aggrandizement to pass sweeping reforms, should be avoided. These will only hamper the development of democracy in the immediate term. Third, geopolitical considerations are just as needed to motivate reforms and improve the quality of democracy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the fast-forward decision to grant Moldova and Ukraine candidate status show that the accession process and democratization cannot be influenced purely by technical processes and reforms. As German Chancellor Scholz pointed out: “The Thessaloniki conclusions are 19 years old. Nobody thought at the time that it would take 20 years. That’s why it has to be fast now.” On top of its technical approach, the EU needs to demonstrate agility and firm political leadership in the Balkans in order to maintain its credibility.
Supporting Ukraine's social contract after the war
Last month, International IDEA released a GSoD in Focus report, Supporting Ukraine’s Democracy After the War, which argues sustainable support for Ukraine requires centering and providing respectful support to Ukraine’s democratic institutions. Although the report is focused on key aspects of Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, the main thrust of its argument applies today, as highlighted recently by Western countries’ and international financial institutions struggle to agree on a plan to finance Ukraine’s public budget and cancel or restructure its public and private debt. As we argued in a blog in May of this year, this delay requires Ukraine to balance the provision of public goods to its war-ravaged public and maintaining good relations by making payments and reaching permanent settlements with public and private bondholders. While Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance has reportedly worked wonders in this regard , the wariness of Ukraine’s private creditors to press too hard on debt payments may not be as durable as policymakers would hope. That support for Ukrainian democracy requires providing its government the fiscal space to be responsive and answerable to its citizenry should not be an overly controversial statement. However, delaying debt restructuring or forgiveness essentially cedes the authority to decide Ukraine’s economic future from the sphere of democratic politics to that of private financial institutions. The issue then becomes not finding a solution, but whether the solution determined by bond markets, investment houses, and white-shoe law firms will cohere with the broadly articulated political goal of a democratic reconstruction on Ukrainian terms. This sentiment is also less radical than it may seem at first glance—Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the Financial Times have recently questioned which aspects of economic decision-making should be the responsibility of the democratic sphere and which are best left to some combination of courts, regulators and market forces. In all three cases the above were discussing the domestic balance between elected governments and their central banks. But the core issue—where democracy ends and where the law begins—is not at all distant from the question facing Ukraine and its international partners. The core concern is a critical examination of the balance between global financial markets regulation—the rules of which are, to be clear, determined by New York state regulators and London-based interpreters of English Common Law - and the articulated policy goals of democratic nations. In other words, is the division between law and politics as determined in the current social contract fit for the dealing with the current crisis? Are there alternatives that might alleviate the current impasse, and also head off or lessen the severity of coming crises? Legal scholar Katharina Pistor has argued that “a legal order that has de-politicized the social sphere by fortifying private rights without regard to the effects of the exercise of these rights might have on others is prone to crises.” As western leaders struggle to provide Ukraine an exit from its financial straits, it is worth asking whether the problem is unavoidably economic, or a product of the current legal order governing finance and contracts. The answers may not always be immediately at hand, but the road to finding them lies through critical, democratic debate and contestation. The GSoD in Focus report Supporting Ukraine’s Democracy After the War, is available online here.
Explainer: What constitutes a clean or credible election, and how should the US mid-terms be evaluated?
On 8 November 2022, the United States will hold mid-term elections for 470 seats in Congress and thousands of state and local offices. In the USA and elsewhere, it is increasingly common for candidates and their supporters to call elections and their results into question, even when there is no evidence of malfeasance. But what makes an election “clean”, and is a “clean” election by definition “credible” by some impartial standard? As democratic institutions around the world suffer from a crisis of public legitimacy, these questions are of vital public interest. What is a “clean election”? A clean election is one in which rules are scrupulously followed, and the outcome is not influenced by improper or illegal actions. Clean elections are roughly synonymous with “free and fair” elections, but there has been an international trend away from the “free and fair” terminology. There is no consensus, however, on what is considered “clean.” At International IDEA, our Global State of Democracy Indices assess clean elections using six indicators which measure: election management body (EMB) autonomy and capacity; government intimidation of the opposition; degree of party competition; and occurrence of intentional irregularities and fraud. What is a “credible election”? Assessments of what constitutes a credible election are often broader than those for a clean election. A minimal point of agreement is that any assessments must consider the entire election cycle. A credible electoral process reflects respect for and legitimacy of each phase of the cycle: Criteria for a credible election vary by country and by evaluator. For example, some may include an assessment of the inclusivity of the voter registration process. If government-issued IDs are necessary for registration but if certain minority groups face systematic obstacles in attaining such IDs, it may impact the credibility of the electoral cycle. Almost every election has some aspects that fall short of the ideal. Observers vary in the weight they assign to problems, and sometimes vary in their overall assessment of the credibility of an election. Who determines the credibility of elections? The final word on the credibility of an election lies with the voters in that jurisdiction, who require thorough and reliable information to make their assessments. Impartial election observation missions can play a key role in providing this information. In 2005, the United Nations Secretariat, International IDEA, and 21 other organizations agreed to a set of principles and a code of conduct for election observation. But observation is also done by civil society, media, and citizen monitors/observers. The judgements of international election observers are a core contribution to the public understanding of credibility, but citizens can and have rejected the opinions of observers in the past. What are some specific risks to clean and credible elections in the USA this year? A climate of uncertainty, disinformation and increased violence has strained American political culture since 2020. This climate has impacted elections specifically in three ways: Election denial The 2020 American elections were widely judged to be clean; multiple investigations did not uncover any evidence of fraud. Yet a widespread and disproven belief on the American right maintains that the 2020 elections were “stolen” from former President Donald Trump. Sixty per cent of Americans will have at least one candidate who supports this false claim on their ballot this year. Adherents to this theory in and out of government have engaged in harassment and surveillance of both polling places and electoral management officials, threatening the capacity of states to conduct the current election. The baseless nature of these claims does not mean that American elections are free from credibility-threatening issues. However, policing electoral fraud is the leading justification for electoral laws and regulations that instead restrict and discourage eligible voters from participating in the election. Voter suppression There is a proliferation of laws and judicial decisions that restrict the right to vote, discourage eligible voters from participating, open new avenues for undue financial influence, and decrease the exercise of equal control over public decisionmakers. In the USA, the latter primarily occurs through drawing electoral districts to intentionally disadvantage one party or group, commonly known as ‘gerrymandering.’ Gerrymandering on racial grounds is illegal under the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The current Supreme Court has repeatedly weakened the protections of the VRA, most notably in its 2019 ruling Rucho v. Common Cause and a 2022 procedural decision that allowed Alabama to contest the current election with a map a lower court held was the product of intentional racial gerrymandering. Money in politics If not effectively regulated, money can undermine the integrity of political processes and institutions and jeopardize the credibility of elections. Spending on the 2022 election will surpass USD 16.7 billion. The ability of wealthy individuals to shape political priorities, establish corrupt relationships with candidates, or pay bribes without running afoul of campaign finance regulations has steadily increased since the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC overturned century-old campaign finance regulations. Successive rulings have expanded the role of money in politics, leading Justice Elena Kagan to warn in a recent dissent: “[d]emocracy works only if the people have faith in those who govern … and the people cannot have faith in representatives who trade official acts for financial gain.” What can be done to boost clean, credible elections? Credible elections are built on a fundamental societal agreement (including all political actors) that the procedures matter, and that losses are part of the process. When voters and parties view their policy goals as being more important than the principles of democracy, elections suffer. Improving electoral credibility therefore requires a recommitment to democracy, understood as popular control of decision-making and decision makers, and equality in the exercise of that control. This is unlikely to be a straightforward or uncontested process, as it inherently requires actors who benefit from democratic shortcomings to lose some of their power. Electoral processes need to minimize the manipulating power of money, disinformation, and partisan interests, ensure that all voters can vote, and that those votes count and count equally.