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Toward a New Era of European Support to Political Party Systems

Political pluralism is a cornerstone of any democracy, and the political party system allows to channel the diversity of voices and interests. Yet, support to political parties and pluralist party systems has long been an underdeveloped element of the EU and Member States’ external assistance. The EU has slowly but surely recognised that there is a need to step up support to these key transformation agents in order to deal with different development and foreign policy objectives like policy reforms or conflict mediation.

To provide guidance for EU engagement, we have published a new paper drawing on the lessons learned and the experience accumulated by the implementing partners of the REACH for Democracy project funded by the EU, as well as our network’s political party support community. Our paper provides an analysis of where we think party support stands, where it has been successful, and where to invest in the future.

The paper first looks at the key challenges to political party support programmes, including the new restrictions under COVID-19 that have deepened already existing tendencies of restricting democratic space.

This is followed by three separate sections that look at inclusion in political parties, the role of parties in elections, and cooperation between parties (and with other actors) – three areas chosen on the basis of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024. Each section looks at the barriers and the strategies for those supporting the political party system.

The paper concludes with a list of recommendations to policy-makers and practitioners for future EU actions and frameworks that increasingly recognise the key role of political parties in creating inclusive and well-governed societies.