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Exploring a new dawn in democracy – EPD’s 2023 Annual Conference

150 participants from various walks of life, 36 renowned speakers, and 10 thought-provoking sessions revolving around support for democracy at EPD’s 2023 Annual Conference (see aftermovie and photos below). Despite several worrying trends, our conference underlined that ‘‘there are reasons to be sceptical of the fully pessimistic narrative’’ but, are we entering a new dawn for democratic inclusion and resilience?

Session 1 | From Russia with Lessons: Democratic Values as a Key Foreign Policy Interest

Democracy is vital for security; had Russia been a democracy, the war in Ukraine could have been avoided. There is a clear need for European actors to better reflect the importance of democratic governance for national security. This also extends beyond security and involves understanding that democratic politics needs to become a much higher order priority for European foreign policy.

Session 2 |  Knocking on the EU’s door: Fundamentals first, or geostrategic investment? 

Enlargement negotiations are a leverage for reforms, but these depend on how the country commits itself to them. Approaching accession in a fundamentalist way is vital to European democracy. However, if we consider not only democracy as vital for security, but also security as vital for democracy, it is possible that geopolitical considerations find a more prominent place in the new enlargement agenda.

Session 3 | Big budgets in the grey zone

The EU must tailor its democracy support to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of each country, as understanding the local reality is crucial for effective engagement. While it is important to protect and promote democracy everywhere, we should also ask ourselves: are there countries that can do more for democracy with European financial support?

Session 4 | Beyond tokenism: addressing the challenge of diversity in democracy

Meaningful participation of marginalised groups can only be achieved by working on political stakeholders, developing positive discrimination procedures to push inclusive and diverse representation from political parties to parliaments and institutions. It is also fundamental to work with educational institutions and systems, making sure that social barriers can be overcome through a more empowering and open-minded education of citizens.

Session 5 | Understanding the Defense of Democracy Package

‘‘The Defence of Democracy Package has been postponed, to buy us some more time to work on a proportionate and reasonable proposal’’, said Věra Jourová, European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency.

Session 6 | S4D3: What role for European actors and is it worth it?

Despite the #S4D being a great initiative, the past edition lacked a clear purpose as it failed to provide the space to share improvements in the commitments during the ‘year of action’, partly due to the lack of monitoring mechanisms. Not only should this be improved for the next edition, but European actors should seek to build a coalition of diverse actors and foster more citizen engagement.

Session 7 | Show me the money: new democracy aid data

Policy-makers and practitioners lack precise data on democracy support spending. The European Democracy Hub presented new research data that helps fill this gap that will soon be completed by an online tool making the data accessible to the wider public. However, numbers will need to be combined with a genuine quality analysis to support future democracy support strategies.

Session 8 | A better digital world in 2030

To democratise the digital sphere over the next few years, there is an urgent need to regulate the behaviour of different actors, not only the platforms themselves. Challenges remain regarding democratising the digital sphere at different yet interrelated levels, including the inclusion of different communities in decision-making processes, ensuring that digital policy is responsive to societal demands and that digital policies protect the exercise of fundamental rights as preconditions of democracy.

Session 9 | New initiatives for democratic participation in Europe 

‘‘Citizens are the most important asset, there is no democracy without citizens.’’, said Dubravka Šuica, European Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography. For the EU to engage better with its citizens, there is a need to move outside the ‘’Brussels bubble’’ and build horizontal and reciprocal communicative interactions, especially at a local level, as every EU citizen should be knowledgeable of the avenues for shaping the EU’s agenda.

Session 10 | The EU and Democracy worldwide

‘‘Our own ability to be effective in talking with third countries on Human Rights issues and to be credible also depends on what we do at home.’’, says Eamon Gilmore, EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights. When it comes to human rights, the EU is clearly seen as a vital actor on the international stage but there is much work to be done at a time of serious threats to human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the world.

If one conclusion was to be drawn from our event, bringing together experts, policy-makers, civil society and academia, it is that the key to strengthening democracies lies in working together.

A special thank you to everyone of you who joined us – see if you feature in the pictures and aftermovie below – and made the 20th of June 2023 a memorable day for democracy.

This article was written by Sara Hurtado Meseguer, Communication Assistant at the European Partnership for Democracy.

Aftermovie and pictures