Blog: Democracy — a cornerstone of the European Union and a powerful catalyst for Ukraine
September 15, 2022

Blog: Democracy — a cornerstone of the European Union and a powerful catalyst for Ukraine

On September 15 of each year, people all over the world mark the International Day of Democracy, declared by the UN General Assembly in 2007 with the goal of promoting and defending democratic principles.

In the light of this event, and of the current reform processes occurring in Ukraine, as well as other countries of the Eastern Partnership and the EU in general, as a Young European Ambassador, I would like to reflect on the importance of democracy as a value of the European Union, and to highlight the influence of European integration democracy in Ukraine.

The European Union’s own democratic path has been an evolution over the decades, and official treaties have been amended several times. Today, the importance of democracy is enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which sets it out as one of the founding values of the European Union.

The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009, marks a tremendous shift, with a number of provisions that aim to anchor democratic principles into the legal system of the European Union and to make them work for societies within member states. Among them, I would like to highlight:

  1. Representative democracy, which grants EU citizens both direct (through the European Parliament) and indirect (through the Council of the EU) representation.
  2. Petition to the European Parliament, which any citizen (or resident) of the EU may address “on any matter which comes within the Union’s field of activity and which affects him, her, or it directly”.
  3. Public Council meetings in case of a general debate over a proposal for a legislative act with the possibility to view them on the Internet.
  4. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union enshrining certain political, social, and economic rights for both EU citizens and residents is granted full legal effect alongside other fundamental treaties of the European Union.

Democracy in the EU’s external action

Sustainable democratic development is clearly of great importance for the European Union as a whole, but what is also essential for me, as a citizen of a non-EU member state, is the Union’s External Action policy and actions taken to promote democratic principles internationally. Already, in Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union, one can find that a high level of collaboration in all areas of international affairs is something that the Union defines, pursues, and aims toward in order to “consolidate and support democracy” in third countries.

The EU’s efforts to support democracy have become more coherent due to the adoption of the European Council’s Conclusions on Democracy Support in the EU’s External Relations. The EU’s dedication to assisting democracies has also been further enhanced by the Foreign Affairs Council’s 2012 EU Strategic Framework, as well as other legislative documents, including the EU Action Plan on Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024.

In a statement ahead of the International Day of Democracy in 2020, EU High Representative Josep Borrell stated: “the European Union is redoubling its efforts to support those who are working to defend and build democracy, to encourage democratic participation and inclusion regardless of gender or background, to ensure institutional checks and balances, and to hold decision makers to account.”

In line with these principles, the Eastern Partnership (EaP) aims to strengthen and deepen EU support for reforms that are crucial to establishing peace, prosperity, and security. It provides a comprehensive framework for collaboration, particularly when it comes to reforming institutions in a democratic way and promoting good governance.

At the same time, the EU also supports grassroots democratic initiatives through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), established in 2006, and the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), founded in 2012 as an autonomous entity to help civil society in its efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights.

Naturally, the level of democracy has a significant impact on the economy, security, and political stability of the six Eastern partner countries. I believe that the new strategy established at the EaP Summit in November 2017 around the “20 deliverables for 2020” and the subsequent set of long-term policy objectives beyond 2020, marked the beginning of a new era for the promotion of democratic principles within the EaP. Support for democracy beyond 2020 includes actions around:

  • public administration reform;
  • participation of local and regional independent actors in decision-making;
  • E-governance and E-democracy;
  • creation of an EaP academy for public administration.

European integration and democracy in Ukraine

In Ukraine, European support for democracy has included continuous actions aimed at empowering civil society and the implementation of necessary reforms in order to enhance the democratic process.

After the Association Agreement including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) came fully into force in 2017, citizens saw it not only as significant tool for trade and economic development but also as a trigger for reform of the legal framework, with greater transparency and public inclusion in the decision-making processes.

Among the most significant actions impacting the democratic evolution in Ukraine are:

1. Fighting against corruption

“Grand corruption hinders competition and growth, and harms the democratic process.” These words from the Special Report of the European Court of Auditors from 2021 clearly highlight the call for action, which Ukraine has taken up with the support of the European Union. The emphasis was on taking concrete steps to assess the level of support for civil society and independent media, removing obstacles to free and fair competition, and offering capacity-building assistance. One of the results of EU cooperation in this area was the creation in 2019 of the High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC).

2. Administrative reform and decentralisation

A public administration initiative aims to transform government institutions in accordance with EU standards by the inclusion of new civil servants and the development of best practices in the decision-making process. Meanwhile, a national decentralisation programme has restructured and optimised the territorial-administrative organisation and assisted in the creation of local administrative centers which have increased local government accountability and openness. These reforms have resulted in enhancing public awareness and increasing society’s participation in decision-making processes.

3. Well-administered elections

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance report on ‘The State of Democracy in Europe in 2021’, a list-proportional electoral system with open lists, more proportional fines for election offenses, and greater openness in political financing was all part of Ukraine’s 2019 electoral law revision.

This is a non-exhaustive list of fundamental and, I would say, desirable reforms overseen by citizens of Ukraine during the most recent years of our definitive path towards European integration.

It’s impossible to overestimate the role of the European Union in the promotion of democratic processes in Ukraine. There are multiple ongoing projects and programmes aimed at supporting Ukrainian society on its way to European integration. Among those that attracted my attention are:

A strong commitment to advance and defend democracy is the cornerstone of the European Union. Peace, stability, long-term progress, and sustainability are all impossible without this democratic core. Democracy is not a one-day decision, but a cluster of global and considerable changes, which should be carried out using a complex approach, willingness, and smart thinking. The democratic path of Ukrainian society is supported and welcomed by the European Union and proves once again that only through a fruitful working process, constant efforts, and mutual support will the rise of democracy in Ukraine occur. We must continue to pave the way for it!

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