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Support to Political Pluralism and Political Parties
There is a growing perception among practitioners and stakeholders that political parties play a crucial role in fostering home-grown democratic processes. Support for the development of viable, democratic and representative political parties is necessary not only to bring about a change towards a democratic political culture, but also contributes to the success of other democracy support activities.
Democratization processes are rendered sustainable not only by relying on support to state institutions or civil society, but also when political parties are fully integrated in this process. Equally, whilst the enforcement of civil society contributes to the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, it cannot replace political society (of which political parties are a constituent part). Political parties act as the mortar that binds the two levels together to create a truly democratic polity.
Yet, in many developing and democratizing countries, political parties are often not able to fully play their role in the democratic process and to aggregate the citizens' interests, to provide political choices, develop policies and implement them, to engage citizens in the democratic process and act as a bridge between civil society and political society/institutions, to advance government accountability (through opposition parties) and strengthen legislatures.
EU support to political parties is part of the EU’s holistic approach to democracy support - as reflected in the 2009 EU Council Conclusions on Democracy Support in the EU’s External Relations – but such support is not yet commensurate to the potential role that political parties can play in democratizing societies and political systems.
Following the Arab Spring the EU has strengthened its engagement with political parties due to the crucial and multiple roles which they play in fostering a democratic system. The EU has only engaged with political parties that share democratic values, on the basis of a non-partisan approach and indirectly, through trainings, platforms for dialogue and other capacity-development activities (direct funding of political parties is prohibited under EU rules). Support is often provided within broader electoral assistance projects or through support to parliaments. The EU is also supporting the introduction of legal or constitutional frameworks that empower democratic political parties and allow them to act as all-inclusive vehicles of representation. Presently, the EU is increasingly putting a stronger focus on political party support as stand-alone item in the EU's comprehensive democracy support agenda.