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The EU needs to put democracy central to foreign policy agenda

January 31, 2023

As global democracy faces headwinds, EU should lead in new geopolitical reality 

STOCKHOLM — With democracy retreating in many parts of the world, the European Union must bolster its strategic autonomy and become a stronger geopolitical player, placing the democracy agenda more squarely at the heart of its strategic interests, according to a report prepared by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assessment (International IDEA) ahead of the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU. 

“The time is now ripe to take stock of the achievements of the EU’s external democracy policy, and to see how fit for purpose that policy is in this fateful moment for global democracy,” said International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora.  “The recommendations stemming from this project will be hugely helpful for guiding EU decision makers over one of the most important issues of our time—the future of global democracy”. 

International IDEA’s report says that, while the EU continues to be perceived as a strong democracy supporter, it could enhance its work to support democracy abroad. This includes improving its toolbox for democracy action to consider new challenges such as disinformation, polarization and digitalization—and increasing ones, like inequality, social injustice and climate change. Addressing these challenges is primarily about political will of the EU and its Member States to give democracy similar priority as economic and security interests.  

The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the vulnerability of EU’s economic dependence on non-democracies. Given the new geopolitical climate, EU ambitions for democracy abroad should be increased. The report makes concrete proposals to that end. The EU could start by adjusting its narrative on democracy to squarely promote democracy as a universal principle, but also be humbler about its own democratic credentials. Yet, the EU should not be timid about its values.  

“This new narrative should be underpinned by a strong political stance to put democracy front and forward, as a key driver, enabler and objective of all EU external policies,” the report states. “This also means not refraining from being more assertive in owning its agenda, including in terms of political conditionality.” 



The Stockholm-based intergovernmental organization International IDEA, commissioned by Sweden ahead of the Swedish EU Presidency, has analyzed EU’s external democracy policy to see if room exists to further enhance EU democracy action. 

The report’s researchers received feedback from more than 100 of EU decision makers and civil society representatives around the globe over 2022 to prepare the report and mark the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2023. 

The report makes four key proposals:  

The EU should build a new narrative on democracy.  

The EU should use democracy as a guide in all its external policies. 

The EU should adopt an EU Integrated Approach to Democracy Support in External Relations. 

The EU should ensure that the design and implementation of its external democracy policy are more inclusive and more gender and youth responsive. 



The report can be accessed at

The report will be officially  launched on 31 January 2023 in Brussels. For more information on the launch, please contact Chiara Grigolo, International IDEA programme assistant, at  

The publication was produced with the financial support of Sweden. Its contents are the sole responsibility of International IDEA and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Swedish Government. 



Sam van der Staak, International IDEA Director of Regional Europe Programme, and Charles Brasseur, International IDEA Programme Manager of the Swedish EU-Presidency 2023 & the Democracy Agenda, are available for text and visual interviews.  

For media enquiries, please contact: 

Lynn Simmonds, International IDEA Communications Manager at  or Tel: +46-72-207-6524 


International IDEA 

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization with 34 Member States with the sole mandate to support and advance democracy worldwide. International IDEA contributes to the public debate on democracy and assists in strengthening process, reforms, institutions and actors that build, advance and safeguard democracy, with a focus on electoral processes, constitution-building, democracy assessment, and political participation and representation. Mainstreamed across all our work is gender and inclusion, conflict sensitivity and sustainable development.  

International IDEA is one of the most trusted global sources of data and analysis on the health of democracy around the world. 

More information about the intergovernmental organization International IDEA can be viewed here. 


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Press contact

Lynn Simmonds
Communications Manager
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