Keynote speech by Commissioner Urpilainen at online discussion entitled “Thriving Democracy - EU Action and Partnerships to Sustain Democracy”, organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Democracy Network 21, the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) – 18/03/2021
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Let me start by thanking Nordic presidency and EU Presidency as well as civil society partners and transatlantic friends for your contributions to have this dialogue today.
It is worth reflecting our fundamental values and how democratic development can be promoted with partnerships and multilateral approaches.
History has taught us that moments of crises often make us to reach out to others and spur collective action.
The story of the European project is a case in point. Out of ashes of the world war II rose a community of like-minded states founded on the values of democracy and rule of law.
Europe chose collaboration over conflict. And it has paid off. It has produced peace and prosperity.
Likewise, the birth of the United Nations lay the foundation of a rule-based order, recognising human rights, rule of law and democracy as corner stones of peace and prosperity.
Let us then fast-forward to 2021.
COVID-19 is arguably the greatest test to we have faced since the world war II. The EU has engaged in monitoring its impact on democracy and human rights by supporting International IDEA’s Global Monitor.
COVID-19 has increased inequalities. All over the world, undemocratic regimes have used the pandemic as an excuse to tighten their grip on power. We have also seen
- threats to multi-party system,
- censoring media,
- spread of disinformation,
- attacking political opponents and
- violation of human rights.
It is the most vulnerable, including women and young people, who pay the highest price.
UN Secretary General has been calling us to prevent a health crises from becoming a human rights crises. Civil society has also called us to defend democracy.
At the same time, we need to recall that it is not only the COVID year. According to several democracy indexes, liberal democracy has been in decline during the past 10 years.
Where do we go from here? I would like to raise three aspects to these efforts.
My first point is about EU leadership.
Knowing the democratic roots of the European Union, we are of course expected a continued leadership to promote and defend democracy.
The recent European Democracy Action Plan is a clear message that we are serious in developing the resilience of our own democracy. On the other hand, the recent EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy shows that we are not giving up in defending democracy at world stage - but we indeed intend to renew our democracy support to face current challenges.
We will continue to lead - but not alone. We will do it in cooperation with like-minded partners. And I am confident that we will do it together with our American friends. I also know that we will find excellent partners for example in Asia and in African, Caribbean and Pacific states.
My second point concerns our recently reviewed approach to multilateralism.
The EU aims at re-energized and reformed multilateral order. We will continue to rebuild the international order based on multilateralism, guided by the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.
We need to remind ourselves that inclusive societies, inclusive institutions and empowerment of women and youth are part of this common Agenda 2030. And we cannot forget education as ”the real safeguard of democracy”. ”Those who express their choice” should be ”prepared to choose wisely”, as President Franklin Roosevelt phrased it. Investing in education and youth is investing in democracy.
We need global cooperation of all those, who want to promote democracy. The initiative of the US President Biden is very encouraging. The EU is ready to partner with the US in having a successful Summit for Democracy. Rather than a League of ’already perfect democracies’, all participants should be invited to improve their own democracy and their global democracy support. Rather than a restrictive club meeting, I hope to see the Summit as a birth place for new multilateral initiatives and new partnerships to sustain democracy.
In the EU, we want multilateralism to be inclusive itself. In this spirit, I hope that civil society will express their views on how a Summit for Democracy could support their work for democracy and human rights on the ground.
My third point concerns democracy support as part of international partnerships.
Team Europe, the EU and its Member States, is the biggest donor for democracy support around the world. This work needs to be sustained and developed to face new challenges.
As an example, we need to acknowledge that digitalisation affects all domains of democracy. Digitalisation and AI requires new norms and standards. A question on democracies’ resilience against hybrid threats is part of this puzzle. This working strand on digitalisation and democracy needs to strengthened in future.
Amidst illicit financial flows, democratic accountability is one of the key challenges. Tax evasion is weakening the domestic resources of the democratic institutions to support their citizens. Transparency, institutional oversight and fight against corruption need to stay as focus in our efforts to support democratic accountability. If the financial loss caused by these ills is nine times the official development assistance, everybody understands what is required for sustainable and inclusive development.
In democracy support, there are strong traditions both in the US and in Europe. That is why, I would be very keen in exploring the idea of a EU-US partnership on international democracy support.
It is time to reach out to each other, to solve shared challenges and to defend our values. Dialogue is the best way to find right tools for each time. Looking forward to hearing the discussions of today.