The state of democracy in Europe

Although Europe remains the strongest-performing region in the GSoD Indices, there has been worrying deterioration in some of the region’s long-standing high performers in the past five years.


Box 6.1.Hungary, Poland and the EU’s shifting dynamics

Hungary and Poland have for years stymied the attempts of fellow member states and EU institutions to enforce the democratic norms and rule of law commitments that are the foundation of EU membership. In both countries, the illiberal toolkit is quite similar: suppression of rights by targeting academic freedoms (especially in Hungary) and the LGBTQIA+ community and by tightening abortion policies (Thorpe 2020; Hajdari 2023b; Cseh 2023; International IDEA 2022e, 2022h, 2022g). They foster anti-migrant rhetoric, infringe EU laws and erode formal CIs and fourth-branch institutions, so little or no oversight on the executive remains (Krzysztoszek 2023b; Liboreiro 2023c; Braun 2023). According to the GSoD Indices, between 2017 and 2022, Hungary experienced notable declines in Credible Elections, Elected Government, Social Group Equality, Rule of Law and Predictable Enforcement, whereas Poland underwent significant deteriorations in Representation, Access to Justice, Judicial Independence, Absence of Corruption and Credible Elections.

A turning point came in February 2022, when appeals by Hungary and Poland against the Conditionality Mechanism at the Court of Justice were dismissed (Court of Justice of the European Union 2022), allowing the EU to begin withholding billions of euros in funds from Hungary and Poland for systemic violations of the rule of law and abrogation of rights.

While both countries have responded by initiating some reforms, it remains to be seen whether the Conditionality Mechanism will ultimately lead to genuine change, or fall prey to Hungarian and Polish state propaganda which portrays their government as victims of domineering EU institutions (Simon 2023; Szumski 2023). For its part, the 2023 Rule of Law Report underscored the EU’s seriousness, demanding more comprehensive reforms from the two countries before their access to funds would be restored (European Commission 2023b).

This shift signals a new approach from democracies to illiberal-leaning countries in the EU. Poland was subject to calls for full-scale international election observation (Sikora 2023; Tilles 2023); Hungary was not invited to the Summit for Democracy, and serious questions have been raised about its fitness to hold the EU’s rotating presidency in 2024 (Liboreiro and Zsiros 2023; Sorgi 2023b). The EU has signalled that democratic erosion will encounter robust opposition going forward, but in doing so has staked its credibility on its ability to follow through and deliver on its commitment.

Externally, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven the EU to provide and mobilize political, humanitarian, financial and military support to Ukraine (European Council and the Council of the EU 2023b). Some of this aid has targeted future recovery and reconstruction measures, which are essential to ensuring that the country’s pre-war democratic institutions remain as resilient as possible (European Council and the Council of the EU 2023a). These efforts have demonstrated how, when sufficient political support is mobilized, EU institutions can be powerful tools for supporting democratic actors and institutions outside the bloc (Freyburg et al. 2015).

The EU’s efforts to help Ukraine come as the economic repercussions of Russia’s war on Ukraine continue to be felt throughout Europe. The war triggered energy shortages and led to soaring prices in many basic goods and industrial components, resulting in the rising cost of living and a flood of pessimistic economic forecasts. Despite the Eurozone falling into recession in early 2023, Europe has shown more resilience than expected (Treeck 2023; Tamma 2023; Dmitracova 2023; Liboreiro 2023a; Euronews 2022b). Measures introduced, especially by EU member states’ governments, including energy subsidies, caps on electricity prices or tax incentives, have helped to curb inflation and enabled the European Central Bank to refrain from raising interest rates as much as other major economies (Jha 2023; Weber 2022).

Efforts to promote and support democracy do not end in Ukraine. Through its accession processes, the mediating system of the European Parliament and the norm-setting efforts of the European Commission, there is widespread work being done to extend democratic practices and strengthen institutions across the bloc, albeit unevenly and imperfectly (Cianetti, Dawson and Hanley 2018). Russia’s war in Ukraine has mobilized the EU to expand rather than defensively contract. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Ukraine have each achieved candidate status. Georgia’s membership application was reviewed and the EU indicated where improvements are needed for the country to receive candidacy status (see also the case study on Georgia). In Albania and North Macedonia, accession talks were launched in 2022. Croatia joined the Eurozone and Schengen Area, and citizens of Kosovo will be able to travel visa-free within the EU as of 2024 (see also the case study on the Western Balkans). Accession processes, when done correctly, provide key institutional and legal resources for democratic and institution-building forces in candidate countries (Bargués and Morillas 2021).

The European Parliament, as the EU’s sole directly elected law-making body, representing almost 500 million citizens, has—until now—exerted limited influence as a CI. While it could theoretically both counterbalance undemocratic tendencies in its member states and mediate concerns over the degree of authority assigned to the European Commission, it has not historically played such a role (Karayanidi 2011; Lehne 2023). However, the European Parliament has recently proposed reforms, which are yet to be approved by member states, to give European voters more direct control over EU processes. These reforms include enhancing voters’ roles in selecting the Commission president and introducing pan-European Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to complement national candidates (Jack 2022; European Parliament 2022a).

Additionally, the Qatargate corruption scandal, which rocked the European Parliament in 2022, is a stark reminder that even the reformers are not immune to corruption (Liboreiro and Psara 2023). Qatargate revealed several weaknesses of the EU, including a troubled ethics system and the lack of post-mandate rules for MEPs (Alemanno 2023). Reform plans are ongoing, but some—such as stricter rules on transparency, accountability and integrity—have resulted in pushback and dissatisfaction (European Parliament 2023; Sorgi 2023a; Greens/EFA 2023).


Key Findings

  1. In 2022, there was a deterioration in the scores of long-standing and strong democracies, including Austria, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom. Declines have affected a number of indicators, the most common being Rule of Law (especially Predictable Enforcement) and Freedom of the Press. Although these countries remain high-performing in most factors, the declines highlight the importance of constant vigilance in future-proofing democracy.

  2. In spite of declines in Hungary and Poland, Central Europe was the epicentre of democratic growth, becoming the second-highest performing subregion with regard to Rule of Law. Slovenia experienced a remarkable democratic rebound and is now among those performing in the top 25 per cent with regard to the Absence of Corruption at the global level.

  3. As a supranational CI, the European Union mobilized intra-EU unity on support and aid for Ukraine, and took steps to revive the enlargement process and to protect democratic norms in its member states. Moldova and Ukraine gained EU candidacy status and the European Council reviewed Georgia’s membership application, indicating that it would be ready to grant candidate status to the country once certain steps had been taken. The accession processes in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia were also reinvigorated, and Kosovo was granted the long-awaited visa-free status. Inside the bloc, the EU also finally took concrete actions in the ongoing rule of law disputes with Hungary and Poland.

  4. The clearly non-democratic group of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Türkiye has drifted away from the rest of Europe, performing well below the European average across most indicators of democracy.


Although Europe remains the strongest-performing region in the GSoD Indices, there has been worrying deterioration in some of the region’s long-standing high performers. Some of these democracies have seen declines across a number of indicators over the past five years, including Germany, where Credible Elections have been marred by challenges such as weak oversight and campaign finance issues, and Austria, where Rule of Law and Civil Liberties saw declines due to the abuse of public funds, and there was a deterioration in Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press following efforts by the former ruling elite to exert influence over the media. Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko was until recently commonly referred to as ‘Europe’s last dictator’, has, together with Azerbaijan, Russia and Türkiye, drifted even further away from the regional mainstream, possibly foretelling a return of non-democratic political blocs on the continent (Economist 2021).

Many countries sit between the two poles of high-performing—but modestly declining—Northern and Western European states and Europe’s established non-democracies, with international forces providing competing lodestars for domestic political actors. Alongside other challenges, such as persistent inflation and weather patterns exacerbated by climate change, the socio-economic pressures created by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine have placed differentiated stresses on European democratic institutions.

In Georgia, high inflation and significant Russian immigration has gone hand in hand with heightened political polarization. Mass protests and the resilience of citizens there forced the ruling party to drop a controversial ‘foreign agents’ law, which posed a direct threat to the media and civil society (Sekhniashvili 2023). Uncertainty in the Western Balkans has continued, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader of the Republika Srpska and a Putin loyalist, has proceeded with secessionist threats and separatist rhetoric, including the adoption of a law rejecting the state-level Constitutional Court’s decisions (Kurtic 2023; Sito-Sucic 2023; EURACTIV 2023), and in Kosovo, where tensions escalated in the Serbian-dominated northern municipalities (Edwards 2023).

Democracy in Europe, both inside and outside the 27 EU member states, is heavily influenced by the EU’s legislative and non-legislative initiatives, many of which are aimed at defending and promoting democratic values. Recent EU initiatives have focused on fostering civic participation, media freedom and ensuring the integrity of elections, especially with regard to countering disinformation and foreign interference (European Commission n.d., 2022b). The promotion of gender equality internally and externally is also a high priority for the EU (European Commission 2020). Despite its key role as a supranational CI, the EU is not without its flaws. The European Parliament’s ‘Qatargate’ corruption scandal has rocked the EU and has led to reforms, which are pending as the European Parliament prepares for the 2024 elections (Liboreiro and Psara 2023; Cook 2023; European Parliament 2022b).

Hungary and Poland, both of which experienced significant declines in five key indicators between 2017 and 2022, are the most notable examples illustrating the bloc’s limited ability to exert more direct influence over the (non-)democratic trajectory of its member states (see Box 6.1). Despite the fact that the European Commission has frozen billions of euros in funding for Hungary and Poland due to violations of rights and the rule of law, both countries remain generally unswayed in their direction, beyond some minor changes in approach.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia will continue to have a significant impact on both regional and domestic dynamics in Europe over the coming years. Security concerns will remain paramount, especially for neighbouring countries or those involved in disputes with Russia or its proxies. Additionally, Europe’s political and social institutions have been, and will continue to be, challenged by the influx of Ukrainian refugees, the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean, an energy crisis, inflation and recessions, as well as increased diplomatic and financial efforts to provide support to Ukraine.

The state of democracy

Europe dominates the top 20 positionsin the global rankings for all four categories, but there are important subregional variations. Northern and Western Europe’s continued high performance belies several important five-year declines, including in Rights and Rule of Law categories. Austria, for example, suffered declines in Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression, while Predictable Enforcement declined in the UK. Southern Europe has similarly shown overall stable, high performance, although high-performing Portugal was responsible for half of all declines in Southern Europe (across 11 indicators). Non-democratic Türkiye is an exception in the subregion.

In Eastern Europe, the authoritarian regimes of Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia stand distinctly apart from their neighbours (as shown in Figure 6.1) and in stark contrast to promising democratic growth in countries such as Armenia and Moldova.

Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Türkiye perform well below the European average across most indicators of democracy


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Despite declines in Hungary and Poland, Central Europe is becoming a new locus of democratic growth, with notable five-year improvements in eight countries (Bulgaria, Czechia, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia). Kosovo’s democratic expansion has been prominent, with advances seen in Credible Elections, Personal Integrity and Security, and Freedom of Association and Assembly. North Macedonia’s progress has been similarly significant, with improvements seen in Basic Welfare, Elected Government, and Personal Integrity and Security. Over the past year (2021–2022), Central European countries were responsible for 80 per cent of Europe’s notable increases.

Slovenia emerged as a frontrunner, contributing 45 per cent of European progress, followed by Czechia which gave rise to 20 per cent of the increases. Both countries are models of democratic renewal, after liberal leaders, aided by robust civic mobilization, replaced populists in elections that were deemed referendums on democracy (DW 2021; International IDEA 2023b, 2022; Euronews 2022c, 2022a).


Europe continues to be the highest-scoring region on average in Representation, although changes at the subregional level have been limited. In particular, the performance of the Baltic states in Representation is beginning to approach levels seen in Nordic countries (Figure 6.2). Estonia, where women’s representation in the parliament set a new record for the country after elections in March 2023, scored above Norway and Finland in Representation (IPU n.d.). In just one year, Estonia (ranked at 3) moved up three places in the Representation rankings. Over the same period, Latvia (44) became the second biggest climber in the global Representation rankings, moving up 13 places.

Although still relatively weak, Central Europe was the only subregion to show improvement on 2021, with Slovenia (27) experiencing a notable climb of eight places in the ranking. Although still a high performer, Portugal (22) suffered the biggest fall in Representation, moving down 13 places.

In 2022, Europe is the highest-scoring region on average in Representation, and the Baltic states are beginning to approach levels seen in the Nordic countries


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Credible Elections was the factor that saw the most changes over the last five years—first, in terms of deterioration, with relative declines in high performers such as Estonia, Germany and Portugal (Figure 6.3). In Germany, observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the 2021 parliamentary elections pointed to issues such as weak oversight and reporting requirements for campaign finance, as well as to the lack of specific legal provisions for observers. The latter contravenes the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document (OSCE/ODIHR 2022).

Mid-range performers, such as Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Poland and Serbia, also experienced declines. In Poland, the pattern continues, with amendments to the electoral code approved in March 2023, despite concerns that they infringe the Constitutional Court’s prohibition on changing the electoral code less than six months before elections, and that they favour the incumbent party (Ptak 2023).

At the same time, Credible Elections was also among the factors showing the most improvements, including in Armenia, Kosovo, Moldova, Spain and Ukraine (Figure 6.3). In snap elections held in July 2023, Spanish voters abroad were, for the first time, automatically sent a ballot, following electoral reforms passed in October 2022 designed to simplify procedures for out-of-country voting (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, EU and Cooperation 2022).

Credible Elections was the factor of Representation with the most changes over the last five years (2017–2022)


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.


Europe is also the best-performing region in Rights, occupying 80 per cent of the top 20 places. At the subregional level, Northern/Western Europe has the highest performance in Rights, followed by Southern Europe and Central Europe. Eastern Europe has the lowest performance in Rights, although Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia heavily pull the scores down for this entire subregion.

Concerning declines in Rights over the last five years have been observed in high performers such as Portugal and Slovenia, which share decreases in Civil Liberties, including Freedom of Association and Assembly, and Freedom of the Press. Slovenia (ranked at 24) may be beginning to recover, as one-year changes show important increases—up 12 places from last year—accounting for 55 per cent of Europe’s advances in the category of Rights (Figure 6.4). In addition to the introduction of reforms aimed at protecting the media and expanding minority rights, Slovenia also legalized same-sex marriage in 2022 (International IDEA 2022j, 2023g, 2022i).

Slovenia has experienced remarkable rebounds in democratic performance over the past year (2021–2022)


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Overall, there has been more progress in Gender Equality, with significant advances in the last five years in Finland, Iceland, Malta and Moldova, countries which are now all high-performing in this factor. During the same period, only Belarus showed notable declines. Human rights experts have documented harassment of female political activists in Belarus, including threats of being separated from their children and of torture (UN News 2021; Amnesty International 2021; Manenkov and Litvinova 2020; DW 2020).

In the last five years, four times as many countries have experienced declines in Freedom of the Press as have advanced (only two countries: Armenia and Moldova) (Figure 6.5). Declines have affected high performers, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal, most often linked to worsening self-censorship by the media. In Germany and Portugal, experts have expressed concerns about the surveillance of journalists, particularly with regard to the confidentiality of sources (RSF 2023; IPI 2021). While the Netherlands has stepped up preventative protection measures and established investigation agreements with law enforcement and public prosecutors since 2019, experts warn that self-censorship may arise as a consequence of signs of rising aggression against journalists (Media Freedom Rapid Response 2022). Germany (2) and the Netherlands (17) stay in the top 20 positions in the global rankings for Rights; Portugal (31) remains steady compared with last year.

There have been more declines than advances in Freedom of the Press in Europe over the last five years


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Rule of Law

Rule of Law rankings show notable variation (Figure 6.6), especially in Central Europe, which overtook Southern Europe to become the second-strongest performing subregion. Progress in Central Europe is uneven: while Czechia (ranked at 23) and Slovenia (30) each rose 11 positions in the Rule of Law rankings compared with last year, Hungary (64) and Austria (36) fell 6 and 8 places, respectively. The latest GRECO report raised concerns about Austria’s need to improve the regulations that oversee ministers’ and state secretaries’ outside activities (GRECO 2023).

There have been more declines than advances in Rule of Law in Europe over the last five years, including in high and mid-range performers (2017–2022)


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Absence of Corruption is the factor with the largest number of countries showing advances, including Armenia, Lithuania, Moldova and Romania. Compared with five years ago, Ukraine has also improved in Absence of Corruption, particularly by addressing corrupt practices, theft and embezzlement within the executive and public sectors (OECD 2022). Moldova’s anti-corruption protests, like Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity and Armenia’s 2018 Velvet Revolution, have given rise to new leaders who have introduced pro-EU and anti-corruption reforms (Blatt and Schlaufer 2021; Brett, Knott and Popșoi 2015). In Moldova (Figure 6.7), the government has focused on reforming the judiciary through the adoption of a law on pre-vetting of candidates to judicial and prosecutorial councils and the establishment of a new anti-corruption court (European Commission 2022a; Necsutu 2023).

Moldova has seen advances in several factors of Rule of Law compared with five years ago (2017–2022)


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Notable declines took place even among high performers such as the UK, which saw significant falls in Rule of Law and Predictable Enforcement due to weakened domestic institutions. These bodies (extending from members of parliament, particularly the upper house, to political parties) experienced various challenges, including around the use of taxpayers’ money, breaches of ethics rules and alleged abuse of public office (Gye and Gallagher 2023; Conn and Lewis 2022; Keefe 2022; Heathershaw et al. 2021.


Participation has stagnated in Europe, although 8 of the top 10 countries in the global rankings are European. Northern/Western Europe was the highest-performing subregion in Participation in 2022, followed by Southern Europe, Central Europe and finally Eastern Europe (Figure 6.8). Participation is a hopeful area for the future of democracy, demonstrating the strength of people’s commitment to making their voices heard. For example, in 2023, Moldova, which has climbed 14 places in the Participation rankings compared with five years ago, held the largest and most peaceful Pride march in its history in Chisinau, despite the mayor’s announcement that the city would not authorize the march (Radio Europa Liberă Moldova 2023).

Sweden experienced an overall decline in Participation and is joined by Luxembourg in seeing falls in Civic Engagement. This suggests a decline in people’s involvement with institutions like political associations, non-political associations and independent trade unions. While Sweden remains a global leader with strong labour market institutions, trade union membership has recently declined (Bender 2023; Kjellberg 2023). Rising consumer prices and shrinking real wages have made membership too expensive, particularly in unions affiliated with the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), disproportionately affecting low-income workers.

The Participation category shows overall stagnation


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023.

Countervailing institutions

The European Union as a supranational countervailing institution

Unlike many other regional bodies, the EU has demonstrated the will and capacity to hold member states to certain principles and standards of democracy that form the foundation of the Union. It has also engaged in external democracy promotion (Brasseur, Pachta and Grigolo 2023; Youngs et al. 2023). In 2022, the EU took major steps in its long-running rule of law dispute with Hungary and Poland, freezing billions of euros worth of funds and announcing legal action to protect judicial independence and prevent executive aggrandizement (International IDEA 2022f, 2023f; Kość 2023). But like all CIs, EU institutions are neither omnipotent nor immune to politics, and the European Commission continues to tread carefully around these two member states to maintain the necessary consensus and avoid political backlash (Schlipphak and Treib 2016; Scicluna and Auer 2023).

Domestic institutions as countervailing institutions

Courts and legislatures

Over the last five years, courts and legislatures have struggled to check executive power in Europe. Instead, executives have used weakened parliaments and courts to crack down on electoral integrity and on the opposition. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has been criticized for using parliamentary practices to prevent public or opposition debate on legislation (Venice Commission 2017). It has given itself more power over the judiciary since taking office in 2015, including through the appointment of loyalists to the Constitutional Tribunal, which reviews the constitutionality of laws and rules on the validity of elections. It also leveraged its majority in the parliament and the help of its ‘former’ member, President Andrzej Duda, to pass controversial laws. For example, the government was able to postpone local elections in 2022 despite suspicions it breached the constitutional principle of tenure, and signed the so-called ‘Tusk Law’, described by critics as a way to target the opposition. This move prompted the European Commission to send a notice to Poland for violations of EU law (International IDEA 2022h; European Commission 2023a; Hajdari 2023c; Liboreiro 2023b).

The need to build up formal CIs is present even among high-performing countries. In response to the childcare benefits scandal in the Netherlands, in which the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration used discriminatory algorithms to falsely accuse thousands of parents of fraud in their applications for benefits, the government has begun considering reforms that would allow courts to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by parliament (House of Representatives 2020; Darroch 2022).

Fourth-branch institutions

Politicians have used the risk of foreign interference to crack down on critical CIs, such as the media, independent agencies and civil society. While most (53 per cent) of Europe live in a high-performing country with regard to Rights, over the past decade the proportion of the population living in a country with low performance in Rights has risen (reaching 29 per cent in 2022, compared with only 1 per cent in 2012) (Figure 6.9). Over this period, Belarus, Russia and Türkiye have shifted from mid-range to low-performing in Rights.

The proportion of Europe’s population living in a country with low performance in Rights was on the rise between 2012 and 2022


International IDEA, The Global State of Democracy Indices v7.1, 2023 and The World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2023.

Many of these declines have been driven by attacks on independent media, which are occurring even in countries where performance in Rights is high. Greece, which has experienced a five-year decline in Freedom of Expression, has been confronting a sprawling surveillance scandal, which implicated both the government and the intelligence service in extra-legal hacking and surveillance of journalists (International IDEA 2022d). In Austria, which also experienced notable decreases in both Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression during the same period, ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been implicated in schemes to shut down critical media and purchase positive coverage by using public funds through the Ministry of Finance (Gall 2019; ).

Similar phenomena have been observed in lower-performing democracies, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Republika Srpska parliament voted to criminalize defamation in July 2023 and made the unauthorized publication of video recordings and photographs punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. Journalists and NGOs have resisted the legislation, saying it can be used to constrain public discourse (Media Freedom Rapid Response 2023). In Georgia, which experienced a significant decline in Freedom of Expression, the ruling Georgian Dream party has overseen increased media concentration and broader surveillance, and has used the regulatory powers of the nominally independent Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) to punish critical and opposition media (International IDEA 2022c, 2022b, 2022a).

Positive cases exist despite these overall negative signs. In Slovenia, after years of government interference, a referendum endorsed a law—previously approved by the parliament—aimed at safeguarding the independence of the public broadcaster Radio-Television of Slovenia (RTV) (International IDEA 2022j). The reforms include a role for civil society in the appointment of RTV’s central management body, which local organizations welcomed after years of difficult relations with the previous administration (European Civic Forum and Civic Space Watch 2023).

Similarly, independent bodies have been critical in the protection of rights and the rule of law. In Malta, the Broadcasting Authority upheld an impartiality complaint filed against a media outlet owned by the ruling Labour Party (International IDEA 2023e). Europe’s privacy watchdogs have served as a key fourth-branch institution, drawing attention to the potential risks of artificial intelligence and raising concerns around chatbot ChatGPT’s encroachment on data privacy rights and fomentation of misinformation. Such developments could impact countries’ scores for Personal Integrity and Security. Italy’s Data Protection Authority resolved to temporarily block ChatGPT in March 2023, citing friction between ChatGPT and EU data privacy regulations (International IDEA 2023d).

When CIs such as civil society, the judiciary and legislatures engage in cross-institutional cooperation—such as the February 2023 passage of transgender rights legislation in Finland, which was made possible by decades of campaigning and a 2017 decision by the European Court of Human Rights—performance in Rights remains steady or improves (International IDEA 2023c). Finnish civil society groups have long campaigned against medical and psychological requirements for legal gender transitions and these efforts rapidly gained traction when the European Court of Human Rights held that mandatory sterilization as a condition of gender transition violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights in a key case brought by transgender French citizens against France (European Court of Human Rights 2017).

However, cross-institutional collaboration is not necessarily seamless. The Spanish sexual consent law, ‘Solo sí es sí’ (only yes is yes), was made possible by mass protests and collaboration between a coalition of parliamentary parties and organized feminist civil society groups (International IDEA 2023h). An unintended loophole in the law, however, resulted in the release of over 100 convicted individuals, as well as a reduction in sentences for over 1,000 people convicted of violent sexual crimes. Efforts to close the loophole in 2023 fractured the coalition, leaving the ruling Socialists to pass amendments in April 2023 that undid, in the eyes of civil society and the left-wing Podemos party, the original law’s primary accomplishments (Abend 2023; Hedgecoe 2023).

Popular protest and mass movements

In situations where institutional CIs are unable to prevent centralization of power or ensure government responsiveness to popular needs, people increasingly turn to citizen action to exercise popular control over decision making. According to the Global Protest Tracker, Europe has seen more protests than any other region since 2017. The most common motivations were concerns over fuel prices or the rising cost of living; others mobilized against corruption or in favour of rights protections (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2023). For example, in Poland, demonstrations organized by CSO groups led the government to back down from further restricting access to abortion (Krzysztoszek 2023a).

Other CIs have been active, but with mixed results in terms of shoring up levels of participation. Trade unions in the UK were unable to act effectively to stop a law on minimum service requirements for essential services during strikes, with implications for civic engagement. In Luxembourg, however, NGOs, media and local authorities all played important roles in raising awareness of new measures allowing foreign nationals to vote in municipal elections and in encouraging people to register in time for the June 2023 local elections (Sharp 2023; Lambert 2022).

Smaller protests and forms of horizontal organization exist in non-democracies and serve largely the same function as they do in democracies (Morris, Semenov and Smyth 2023). However, governments like those in Belarus, Russia and Türkiye attempt to strictly limit the scope of protest and deliberately erode civic space when movements become too organized (Armstrong and Guerin 2023; RFE/RL’s Russian Service 2023), constraining civil society. In Belarus, anti-government protests between 2020 and 2021 were met with further repression, including the entry into force in January 2023 of a law making it possible to revoke the citizenship of Belarusians abroad on the grounds of participation in ‘extremist activities’ (Radio Svaboda 2022; Ilyash 2023; HRW 2021). People remain committed to democratic modes of participation, even in countries with low democratic performance at the institutional level and, at times, despite great personal risk. Rural protests in Azerbaijan, against protracted government inaction over water shortages in March 2023, and against the expansion of a local mining project in June, have been met with violent crackdowns (International IDEA 2023a; Council of Europe 2023).


Europe continues to show the highest democratic performance globally, with many countries, especially in Northern and Western Europe, boasting long histories of strong institutional and non-institutional CIs (Bohlen 2022). It is promising that the long-established gap between these subregions and Central Europe, the Baltic states and parts of Eastern Europe has started to shrink. As a supranational CI, the EU mobilized support for Ukraine and demonstrated its ability to promote democratic resilience in member and non-member states. Nevertheless, the ongoing challenges in long-standing democracies, such as Austria and the UK, as well as the serious deterioration in younger democracies, such as Poland, serve as a reminder of the required vigilance in protecting CIs. The trajectory of the non-democratic group of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Türkiye, serves as a striking illustration of how illiberal countries can exert a destabilizing influence on the overall stability of a predominantly democratic region.

Case Studies