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Over the past twenty years, the European Union has been increasingly active in promoting democracy, and consequently so has academic literature on EU democracy assistance, culminating in a vast and diverse collection of concepts, theories and empirical findings. However, despite decades of research and practice, there is yet much confusion about the actual substance of democracy being promoted. In other words, what does the EU promote? Following more recent academic research on the subject, this article provides a general academic overview in search of consensus on the substance of EU democracy assistance and how to understand it. After all, answering this question provides a benchmark against which the EU’s commitment can be assessed.

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The European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) was created in 2008 by EU members states and non-forprofit organisations keen to solidify European support for democracy abroad. Yet much has changed since the late 2000s both in terms of the policy environment inside Europe and the changing nature of political systems around the world. As a result, EPD and its members are conducting a participatory review of European democracy support over the course of 2018-2019.

The research is designed to take stock of European democracy support by focusing on the policies of practitioner organisations, the European Union and European governments in order to draw lessons for the future. This paper forms part of a series of research papers by EPD that informs this review process.

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