Democracy support in EU external policy
Democracy support in EU external policy - Briefing
Author: Ionel ZAMFIR
Date of publication: February 2018

The EU's policy of external democracy support has gained momentum, particularly after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which defined democracy as a fundamental principle of the Union, to be enshrined in all policies of external significance. Subsequently, several policy documents have outlined strategic orientations and sought ways to enhance implementation and policy coherence and effectiveness, a need often recognised by EU stakeholders and other players.

The EU has deployed all the tools at its disposal in order to support democracy and democratisation processes across the world. These tools range from political and diplomatic efforts, including political and human rights dialogues, to development aid instruments and extensive support for civil society and human rights defenders. As a result, democracy support has become better integrated into the EU's external policies, particularly in the area of development, and better inter-linked with measures to protect human rights and the space needed for civil society to thrive.

The EU is the biggest commercial bloc and development aid donor in the world, and therefore has considerable leverage over its partner countries. However, as the EU does not want to use its power in a coercive manner, it has sought to move away from a classical relationship of donor conditionality to one of equal partnership, recognising that domestic dynamics and local ownership in third countries are essential for democratic progress. It has used sanctions mechanisms in its bilateral agreements and unilateral trade preferences mainly as a constructive tool to open dialogue and find solutions based on consultation and cooperation.