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Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

European Strategies for Promoting Democracy in Post-Communist Countries

International Conference, Institute for Human Sciences
Vienna, 20 January 2006


Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First let me thank Professor Michalski, the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen and Kari Schwarzenberg for this opportunity to address you today.

I will start with the words of the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”.

Promoting democratic reforms is an extremely important topic, and central to my mandate as External Relations Commissioner. The EU, as an organisation founded on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, believes democracy is inherently valuable and universally desirable. And we are morally obliged to foster those values in all our international partners.

But it is not just a question of high-minded principle, the EU’s Security Strategy makes clear “the best protection of our security is a world of well-governed states”. Democracies are, on the whole, more prosperous and more stable and therefore make better partners. And better governments for their people.

Democracy promotion has received renewed attention in the last few years, but the spotlight has been on North Africa and the Middle East. So today is a welcome chance to focus on the post-communist world, a region which, given our co-habitation of the European continent, is even more important for the EU. And where, unfortunately, the challenges of democratic transition remain.

Indeed, as I hardly need tell you, the last 15 years have been a mixed experience for this region. Eight countries in the post-communist world have been tremendously successful, and are now Members of the European Union. Two more, Bulgaria and Romania, are set to join next year. We’ve started negotiations with Croatia, and Macedonia has just been given candidate status.

But other countries have not made such progress. In south east Europe real political pluralism has been achieved, but countries are in a dangerous battle against corruption.

Elsewhere there have been glimmers of hope, but many countries are still struggling to consolidate their democratic gains, or are sliding back towards authoritarianism.

So the question for those of us motivated by giving real choice and opportunity to the people of this region is - what has gone wrong? And, more importantly, how can we put it right?

Like all questions in this field, the answers aren’t obvious. Indeed, there can be few less exact sciences than promoting democracy. We know there is no magic recipe to prompt a democratic transition, still less to maintain it. As my predecessor, Chris Patten said, “developing democracy is not like making instant coffee”! But we have learnt something about the drivers of political reform from democratic transitions around the world over the last 20 years:

1) We recognise that the practice of democracy can look very different from one country to the next, and political institutions must be attuned to local conditions. There is no one-size fits all solution to democracy promotion.

2) We know that requires long term commitment and patience. Democracy is not something that can be instituted overnight - it takes time not only to build new institutions but the widespread trust in them that must be developed.

3) And perhaps most importantly, we understand that democracy can never be imposed from outside: genuine democratic transition must always come from within.

Indeed it is these elements which are at the core of the EU’s approach. We focus on fostering the conditions for democracy to take root and consolidate. We do not promote a specific model of democracy – how could we when we ourselves have 25 different models, plus an innovative model of trans-national democracy, the EU itself. Instead, we promote the principles common to all democratic systems. We tailor our assistance to meet each country’s specific circumstances, and commit ourselves to the long-term. And we work with civil society groups, parliamentarians, government officials and others to foster as broad a basis as possible for democratic practice - changing mindsets, not regimes.

But like everyone else, we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. And even when we understand what works, implementation is not always easy. We have made considerable improvements over the last few years. Most notably, we have increased our capacity to tailor our assistance by adding an element of conditionality, and giving more responsibility for decisions to experts on the ground.

But we know there are still improvements to be made, and for the future I want to focus on bridging the gap between civil and political society, and increasing the flexibility of our assistance if our financial regulations allow. Indeed, we are continually developing our democracy promotion tools. These range from political dialogue on international human rights and democracy commitments, to our aid programmes. I am responsible for a €120 million programme specifically for human rights and democratisation, and our geographic programmes with much bigger envelopes place strong emphasis on democracy support, institution-building and good governance.

In our efforts to promote democracy, we might not always get the same recognition as the United States. But a recent report stated that “The EU’s strategy undoubtedly chimes well with the broad consensus that democracy must be generated from within and mesh with concomitant economic and social change”. And if we look at funding, of the estimated $2 billion spent annually on democracy-related aid projects worldwide, Tom Carothers in his recent book attributes approximately half each to the US and the EU.

The EU has developed particular expertise in the field of election observation – elections obviously being a fundamental pillar of democracy. Given a chance, the electorate has the power to transform peacefully the political and democratic landscape of a country. We are now a visible and credible actor in election observation, sending on average 12 missions a year to places as diverse as Ethiopia, the Palestinian Authority, and Afghanistan. These missions have made a real difference. They stand as very practical manifestations of the EU’s worldwide commitment to human rights and democracy.

We also provide substantial support to voter education, programmes and capacity building of domestic observer groups, like the “Network of Europeans for Electoral and Democracy Support – NEEDS”. In our election-related activities on the European continent and in Central Asia we work closely with the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. I am happy Ambassador Strohal is here today and we will be pleased to continue supporting its excellent work in this field.

Beyond elections, we help set-up new democratic institutions, strengthen the rule of law and develop civil society. We provide training for parliamentarians and key staff and advocate legal regimes that enable political parties to form and function. Other priorities include promoting the freedom of association and freedom of expression – focusing on independent press and broadcasting, elimination of legal and technical obstacles, promotion of adequate legislation, and raising professional standards.

In a wider perspective we aim to mould the social, economic and cultural processes that underpin political reform, putting in place the conditions which will foster and support democracy. I strongly believe education has an important role to play in fostering democratic values, and will lay great emphasis on this during my time in office. The EU also draws on our own experience to assist in economic development and institution-building, drawing on our own experience. As Jean Monnet, one of the EU’s founding fathers put it, “Institutions govern relationships between people. They are the real pillars of civilisations.”

So, given this experience and tools – what is our approach for democratization in post-communist countries?

It is only natural for us to place particular importance on our immediate neighbourhood. So it is no surprise that this region has been in the vanguard of the EU’s democratisation efforts.

We have adopted a multifaceted approach, tailored to the circumstances of each country. The key element of success is of course countries’ own desire to move to democracy. Outsiders can help create a context conducive to political change, and once change is underway they can support and reward reformist forces.

But they cannot substitute for political willpower or the impetus for reform. In this respect, much has been made of the role played by the EU’s power of attraction in the enlargement process and I know Danuta Hübner will speak more about this tomorrow. There are naturally variations in speed when it comes to genuine democratization, and the Balkans is a case in point, given the recent history of conflict. But also here, the gravitational pull of the EU to foster democracy and rule of law is obvious.

Following our tremendous success with enlargement we want to continue using Europe’s power to attract, stabilise and transform. That has been the guiding principle of the latest addition to our democratization toolbox, the European Neighbourhood Policy, for which I have special responsibility. The Neighbourhood Policy gives us a framework for promoting democracy and economic development in the countries around the borders of an expanded EU.

It aims to encourage the spirit of democracy by providing our partners with incentives to reform. These include a “Governance Facility” which will offer those countries demonstrating clear progress in democratic reforms additional financial resources to go further. In return for progress to strengthen the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights, and to promote market-oriented economic reforms, we offer a share in the EU’s single market; closer cooperation on energy and transport links; and a chance to participate in the EU's internal programmes.

In this way the EU fosters and encourages democratic reform, but does not impose it: the impetus must always come from within. Our Neighbourhood Policy uses jointly-agreed Action Plans that identify priorities for action in a broad range of areas. Differentiation is our watchword, so each Action Plan responds to the particular needs and capacities of individual countries.

Discussions later today and tomorrow will focus on Ukraine and the Caucasus, both of which are part of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Ukraine was in the avant garde of our policy of conditionality, as we used the incentives offered by the Neighbourhood Policy to help resolve the 2004 crisis. We put the Action Plan on ice until the crisis was resolved, and then drew up a 10 point plan going even beyond its scope. Since then we have worked hard with the government to help keep Ukraine on the path of democracy. We have responded to every move the government has made, and significant progress has been achieved.

But this road is not easy, nor is it always predictable, as recent events have shown. We are of course concerned that Ukraine’s democratic gains be preserved, but I am confident that a people who showed such commitment to democratic values in the freezing temperatures last winter will find the necessary resilience and determination to see this process through to the end. And they should be assured that the EU will be with them every step of the way.

As for the Caucasus, we are only just beginning our Action Plan discussions with the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but we hope to finalise these in the course of this year. Some countries have further to go than others, but the basic principle of the Neighbourhood Policy holds true: as countries make good on democratic reforms and show their desire to consolidate democracy, we will offer them greater assistance.

Two countries not explicitly mentioned on your agenda today are Belarus and Moldova. Moldova is the second country in this region to develop an Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan with us, and we are pleased with the progress that has been made. The agreement to set up a border monitoring mission will, we hope, help consolidate democratic advances, and move us closer towards resolving the running sore of the Transnistria conflict.

The political circumstances in Belarus are, unfortunately, not ripe for our Neighbourhood Policy. There we face the challenge of fostering the conditions for democracy in a climate hostile to its fundamental principles. Yet in the last year the European Commission has found innovative ways to channel assistance, such as the daily broadcasts produced by Deutsche Welle, and our support for the European Humanities University in Vilnius. Democratic change in Belarus is a long term project which will require sustained commitment from us all.

Of course in speaking about the post-Communist countries we must talk about Russia, where we also have concerns about the direction of political reform. Our desire for good relations with Russia will not prevent us from expressing those concerns. On the contrary, no political discussion goes by without us mentioning them.

That brings me to my final point. The countries in the post-communist world with the most entrenched opposition to democracy, where the values we hold dear are violated on a daily basis, are not the ENP countries. Nor do they feature on your agenda today. And yet we urgently need to define an approach to those countries where the forces of reform are growing fainter by the day.

I am speaking of Central Asia where abuse of power and corruption seem endemic. We are able to work with civil society and fund projects in the fields of media, elections, and judicial reform in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan we have difficulty in accessing and working with civil society. The already difficult situation regarding democracy and human rights in Uzbekistan became even more repressive after Andijan. Controls on foreign-funding make implementing our assistance impossible, even to government-approved projects. We are seriously reflecting on how we should tailor our democracy assistance to these circumstances.

A differentiated, country-specific approach is key. But some common questions need to be addressed: how to provide assistance in countries where the political will to reform is absent? What incentives can we offer? Where the EU has no leverage, what should we do? How do we reach pockets of democratic values within a country, without putting peoples’ lives at risk?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to end on a positive note – yes, we still face enormous challenges in overcoming the legacy of communism in these countries. Some are still constrained by Soviet-era practices, extensive, corrupt bureaucracies, and top-down patronage networks.

But the prevailing trend has been positive. Many countries have reaped the rewards of democracy. And there is more political will in post-communist countries to implement democratic reforms than ever before.

What’s more, as we see here in this room, there is an active community of donors and experts ready to offer support and encouragement to countries as they move down the path of democracy.

And ready to remind them, and ourselves, that “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy”.

Thank you.

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