Skip to main content

Elections on Rewind: Democracy on Fast Forward – Key Takeaways on EPD’s Annual Conference

The EPD’s Annual Conference 2024 was a blast! Through 10 insightful sessions, our speakers and moderators helped us create a picture of what the next EU term will look like for democracy. What should we watch out for? What opportunities will there be?

#EPDAC2024 in figures

Thought-provoking sessions/plenaries

Each session looked at different aspects of democracy: from elections to fighting disinformation, through innovating democracy, digital policy and much more.

Insightful speakers

We want to thank all of our speakers for bringing their expertise to the table and engaging in debates on the key aspects of democracy.

Eager participants

We also feel very lucky to have had so many participants who triggered discussion, during the sessions and during networking moments around the conference.

What to bring home from #EPDAC2024

The 2024’s EPD’s Annual Conference on Democracy Support and Elections highlighted significant insights into the current state and future of democracy within the European Union and its foreign policy. Here are the main takeaways:

Democratic Processes and Human Rights

The EU elections showcased robust integrity, safeguarding against foreign interference. The Digital Services Act (DSA) marked a significant step towards transparency and digital regulation, encouraging cooperation among the 27 EU election management bodies.  In the future, the EU must maintain consistency in its human rights agenda both domestically and internationally and position human rights as the basis for all policies. Enhancing civic space and protecting democracy advocates are essential components of this effort. In external policy, we need to choose partners who truly embrace democracy and the human rights agenda. More effective tools are needed to make Election Observation Mission recommendations operational and for them to be backed up by international and civil society support outside of the formal electoral process. But our global credibility when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights starts at home. 

Inclusion and Education

While youth voting increased, the inclusion of minority groups remained limited, with some states maintaining restrictions. There is a need for improved civic education to enhance voter participation and engagement. Democracy starts with fair elections, but it goes beyond that. On the one hand, citizens need to be empowered to bring concrete contributions to the policy agenda, whereas civil society needs to be enabled to contribute as observers, bring grassroots perspectives, and follow up on processes and feedback cycles internal to institutions. Deliberative democracy examples such as citizen assemblies and civic engagement platforms create a space of participation for discussion and are a good starting point to fill the gap between elected politicians and citizens. However,  they are not enough: Polls and surveys are approaching citizens as consumers: deliberative democracy is about people getting together to discuss and taking time to find solutions. For true innovation, people need to have the willingness to participate in digital platforms, and that is the real challenge. On the other hand, political parties can act as the connecting force between grassroots initiatives and governments, to decrease the disconnect between the two. There is a need for a political system that takes into account both the big philosophical positions of mass parties and an individualised society, where people want to see that political actors give space to the things they care about.

Radical Right Influence

The growing presence of far-right parties poses a risk to democratic stability. The far-right surge brings new debates: far-right politicians now do not want to be left without their piece of cake, they want their place at the table to discuss policies. However, autocrats use democratic practices and their legitimacy as democratically elected leaders to justify their arguments. Vigilance to prevent the erosion of democratic norms remains extremely important. The aftermath of the elections revealed internal EU tensions, particularly regarding leadership roles and the influence of far-right parties. The potential for hard-right coalitions could alter the EU’s power balance, but this remains uncertain.

Threats to democracy

If we were to mention something not so negative about external threats to democracy, such as Russia, that would be that they underscore the importance of the EU’s unity to fight such threats and values. These threats have ironically strengthened the EU’s internal cohesion and citizen support for its values. For a long time, in Europe nobody knew what Europe was. In previous election campaigns, the debate was always between pro-European vs. against. Thanks to shaking moments such as the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, this dichotomy is gone: only 50% of citizens used to think that Europe is good for their countries, but now it is around 70%. On the other hand, other threats are less visible and create cleavages. Disinformation is becoming less and less an accidental phenomenon that just happens on social media, it is a very sophisticated and calculated strategy to stir public opinions and serve malicious interests. When we talk about malicious foreign interference, it is important to understand that it prevents citizens from exercising their rights. The EU institutions have been taking some steps to tackle this, like the Digital Services Act, but a comprehensive approach is needed to offer long-term solutions. Not only institutional capacity is needed, but also reinforcing resilience, cooperation between institutions and civil society, support to information space actors (such as journalists), and improving media literacy.  Internally, we have been seeing a weakening of the checks and balances. The European  Parliament is supposed to be a watchdog of the European Commission and the European Council. But what is going on instead is that we have been normalising the fact that some rebellious countries might depart from obligations they have signed up for and that the European Commission is acting less against them for fear of breaking relationships. However, we cannot ensure any meaningful policies for citizens if the Rule of Law is not respected and this is a widespread conviction across a majority of the 27 Member States.

EPD’s Annual Conference underscored the importance of proactive reforms and continuous dialogue to strengthen democracy within the EU and in its foreign relations. Embracing digital advancements while safeguarding electoral integrity remains a priority for the future.

2024’s EPD’s Annual Conference in pictures

Photo credits: Daphne Matthys