by Roel von Meijenfeldt
Executive Director 
Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD)

It is a distinct privilege to have an opportunity to address you today on such an important topic as the promotion of democracy. As I understand, you are in the process of reviewing the democracy assistance that Canada has been providing abroad over the past twenty years. A review that is timely since valuable lessons have been learned and we have lost some of our innocence in the process. I have been told by the organizers that I can be provocative, so when I step out of bounds you know where to complain.

However, let me reassure you from the outset, that I have the highest regards for Canadian foreign policy and its efforts to assist in the fields of democracy assistance, peacekeeping and development cooperation. Throughout my professional career in Brussels, at International IDEA in Stockholm and at the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) in The Hague, I have encountered many like-minded, committed Canadian counterparts, be they governmental or non-governmental officials at CIDA, Elections Canada, the Parliamentary Center and IDRC. Therefore, I am afraid that it is not so easy to be provocative but I shall try at least.

My contribution consists of two parts. It starts with an introduction of the challenges in democracy promotion, followed by an overview of the NIMD approach and a summary of recent developments in this field within the European Union.

On the credit side of the balance sheet, a brief overview of the current state of democracy shows that:

1) the recognition that democracy is a universal value; 2) today, nearly seven out of ten countries are (formally) on the democratic path; 3) a recent worldwide Gallup opinion polls indicates that 8 out of 10 people want democracy (in Africa this is even 9 out of 10); and that 4) for the first time in history, democracy has reached a majority of the human race; People always marvel about emerging economies, but emerging democracies are just as remarkable!

However, on the debit side we find that 5) successful transformation to democracy proves to be much harder, takes much more time and requires more consistent support than many expected, and 6) the new international context is less conducive than 10 years ago.

Some reasons for this changed international context are the international ‘war on terror’, the come-back of unilateralism over multilateralism, the hardening of international competition for scarce energy sources, the revival of (religious) fundamentalism at the cost of rational decision-making in the conduct of international affairs. The euphoria of the 90s, when a wave of democratic transitions spread across the world, is definitely over.

You may know that I come from a country, the Netherlands, that was ranked in October last year by The Economist Intelligence Unit among the best functioning full democracies. In fact, the Netherlands won the bronze medal, behind Sweden and Ireland. And led me rub it in immediately, Canada came in at 9th place just after Australia. However, perhaps to your comfort, you outranked the US which came in at a 17th place.

The Dutch ranking was interesting and for some observers a surprise, since political developments in the Netherlands have been rather volatile during the past four years, with substantial swings within the electorate. And if you would interview the average Dutchman on the quality of democracy in The Netherlands, the score would look differently, I am sure. The recent general elections of November 22nd re-elected the prime minister (although in the Dutch system this is not a direct election) but rejected his center-right government, bringing a new center-left majority in parliament. Negotiations to form a new government coalition, for which a minimum of three parties is required to form a majority, started last week and observers expect it to result in a new government not before the end of February, at the earliest. It shows that a good functioning democracy does not necessarily depend on direct elections of a new government, a point to which I shall return in the course of this introduction.

Why is democracy needed

Reinhold Niebuhr, described as the most influential American theologian of the 20th century, famously stated “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

The Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen concluded at the end of the last millennium that democracy has now become a ‘universal value’. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan came to the same conclusion when he stated on October 30th, 2006: “…democracy is a universal right that does not belong to any country or region, and that participatory governance, based on the will of the people, is the best path to freedom, growth and development.” The necessity of democracy, which Niebuhr noted mid-way the past century had received wide acceptance at the beginning of this new century. That acceptance is founded on a number of positive correlations such as:

      • the link with economic development and MDGs

Amartya Sen was one of the first to challenge the old paradigm that countries have to develop economically first before they become fit for democracy with a new paradigm that countries become fit (economically speaking) through democracy.
Until recently, the conventional thinking about poor countries was: “Give them democracy, but not yet”. The thinking was that in the early stages of development, the iron fist of an autocratic regime is better able to mobilise the nation’s limited financial and human resources. Democracy, so it was thought, is a luxury that a poor country cannot afford.

However, the new paradigm as formulated by Sen is increasingly taking at heart by high ranking policy makers. This has substantial implications for international cooperation as it balances the technocratic development approaches with a consideration of the political dimensions of democracy and security.

For example, the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Mrs Agnes van Ardenne, recently cited a number of academic studies (including studies by the US Council of Foreign Affairs, by Daniel Kaufman of the WBI and the book ‘The Democratic Advantage’ by Morton Halperin and others) which show that democracies and democratizing countries outperform their authoritarian counterparts on the full range of development indicators. It led her to conclude that democracy is a condition for development. Based on statistical analysis over the past 40 years, there is no evidence of an authoritarian advantage when it comes to economic growth. Democracies have a 30% positive edge.
Poor democracies have been much better at avoiding economic disasters. Twice as often, poor autocracies have experienced drops of ten percent or more in annual national income. The Pinochet regime in Chile is often cited as a dictatorship that brought economic success. What most people fail to see is that under Pinochet Chile suffered two economic crises that wiped away much of the growth that had been achieved. His iron fist led the country from boom to bust. Of all the countries below the poverty line, it are democracies that are most likely to achieve the MDG targets for 2015. Their citizens live a decade longer. Fifty percent fewer of their children die before their fifth birthday. Twice as many children attend secondary school. And agricultural productivity is a third higher in poor democracies than in poor autocracies.

      • the link with human rights and rule of law

The human rights agenda has traditionally received more international attention – and for understandable reasons – than the democracy assistance agenda. Human rights and democracy should be understood as integrally related concepts but not, in my view, as synonyms. The standard conception posited by leading academics is that democracy represents the broader set of pluralistic institutional structures that underpin the effective guarantee of human rights. Accepting this definition, one should not make a choice between human rights and democracy, but rather pursue a policy aimed at encouraging broader political and institutional change for democratic governance.

It is an approach taken in the UN Secretary General’s paper, In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All – that was published in preparation for the September 2005 summit of world leaders who convened in New York to review progress since the Millennium Declaration. The report is notable for its insistence on the linkages between development, security and democracy and human rights.

      • the link with peace building

Peace is another important condition for a successful society. Countries in conflict do not prosper. Often, dictatorships are said to maintain stability by repressing tribal, ethnic or political dissent. This is incorrect. Of the forty-nine poor countries embroiled in civil conflict in the 1990s, forty-one were dictatorships. Democracies appear to be especially good at managing ethnic diversity – they use ballots instead of bullets. In dictatorships, ethnic diversity reduces growth by up to three percentage points, while it has no adverse effects on economic growth in democracies. A democratic deficit contributed to many cases of state failure in the second half of the twentieth century. And there is a powerful pattern of “democratic peace” – democracies rarely go to war with each other.
Finally, by promoting democracy abroad, consolidated democracies can buttress a stable, secure and prosperous world, which very much serves their self-interest. Bypassing democracy promotion at this juncture of history would be at our own peril.

The difficulty with democratic transitions

    • transitions: ‘valley of tears’

The British historian and former EU Commissioner Lord Dahrendorf once aptly described a transition process as “a road that traverses through a valley of tears.”
We know from policy analysts such as Tom Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, that the voyage from autocratic governance to democracy is never a straight line. In fact, where democracy generally leads to stability and economic development, the process of democratization is a very volatile one. While there is no alternative for democracy for the reasons explained, we face an uphill struggle in assisting countries to reach stable democratic political systems.
The process of learning to practice democracy meets challenges of various kinds. The first challenge lies in the fact that democratization takes place in often still authoritarian environments that resist change, in countries with weak states that provide insufficient security to their citizens, in countries with incomplete processes of nation-building, and in countries with poorly or unevenly developed economies.

Paul Collier, previously at the World Bank and now in Oxford, has done a lot of research on civil wars looking at data from 1960 till 2005 and testing the assumption that a turn to democracy would have a stabilizing effect. His recent statistics do confirm that the economic drivers for conflict remain the cocktail of poverty, stagnation and primary commodities. In rich societies (above $ 2.500 per capita), democracy makes things much safer, in poor societies it has the opposite effect. Below that per capita level, the risk for internal violent conflict remains high. And once recovering from conflict, post-conflict countries continue to have a 40% chance of falling back into civil war within a decade. The risks only diminish after a decade, leading to the conclusion that peacekeeping and building efforts need to be sustained for at least a period of ten years.

The recent elections in the DRC are a point in case. The day after the second round of the presidential elections on October 29th, 2006, the peace keepers were scheduled to fly out of the country. Yet, peace keepers are likely to be required for a much longer period of time to avoid this conflict-prone country to relapse in violent conflict. The volatility requires a comprehensive approach – no quick fix exit strategies but longer-term engagements.

    • Misconceptions of democracy assistance

Without doubt, a lot has been achieved in support of democracy during the past twenty years. The international community supported democratisation processes, developing – often from scratch – the basic policy and institutional foundations for such assistance. This has been characterized by measures such as electoral assistance and observation, building up the basic components of the democratic architecture, including support for free media and civil society. This support, mostly directed at the “hardware” of democracy, has proven a necessary but not sufficient ingredient.

The academics Rose and Shin introduced the qualification ‘democratisation backwards’’, meaning that in many countries undergoing a transition to democracy, competitive elections are introduced without first ensuring that certain basic institutions — and institutional practices I would add – of the modern state are in place, most notably the rule of law, civil society institutions and accountability of government to its people.

A more comprehensive and strategic approach is needed to address the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of democratisation processes in hugely diverse national contexts. In divided and politically fragile societies, embracing the form rather than the substance of democracy often turned out to be a source of conflict rather than a factor of progress. In several developing and transitional societies, incumbent elites resisted change or manipulated the democratic process to their advantage, sometimes resulting in “hollow democracies”. Building democracy abroad has proven to be much more difficult than initially expected.

Collier also found that democratization in resource rich countries is even more difficult.. Indeed, as he formulates it: “something about resource richness contaminates democracy”. He explains this by the fact that much of the international democracy assistance focuses on elections and electoral competition — also as an exit strategy for resolving violent conflicts. But he notes, and I am in full agreement, that democracy is more than elections and that much more attention needs to be focussed on the introduction of checks-and-balances within the political systems of young democracies. In fact, he found that if a country has no checks-and-balances and intense electoral competition, society is in deep trouble. If you have a lot of resource revenues coming into government, the government does not need to tax. And without taxation, people will feel little incentive to scrutinize the use of public money and the performance of their government. If a society has enough checks and balances – such as free media, political parties, functioning parliaments, rule of law, independent governing auditing courts, etc. – it can make democracy work, harnessing resource rents for growth, also at a low per capita income level.

I concur with the finding of Collier that democracy assistance should use a much wider democracy concept than is often the case. To consider democracy in terms of competition for power overlooks the other dimensions of democracy, such as the peaceful accommodation of conflicts of interests and reconciliation of grievances. Much democracy support has been focused on the form and not on the substance. Democracy can, for example, also be considered as the art to find a common ground for opposing viewpoints and among political rivals. The former French Prime Minister, Mendes France, once stated: « La démocratie est d’abord un état d’esprit ».
While progress has been achieved in establishing the formal attributes (‘hardware’) of democratic societies, key challenges remain to be addressed in terms of consolidating the process and building a ‘culture’ of democracy. This opens a broad agenda for various actors who are directly or indirectly involved in the democratisation process. It implies a focus on the ‘legitimacy’ of government (beyond elections); the norms and attitudes towards the public good; the political society, including the empowerment of parliaments and political parties; and innovative ways to ensure transparency and accountability.
In sum, we need to learn from the experience in democracy promotion over the past twenty years, accept that democracy promotion is a hard and difficult profession and become more strategic in the delivery of assistance.

Specific demands for democracy promotion

Before looking at some of these challenges, let me first give a brief overview of the type of demands for democracy assistance. I admit that the presented inventory is somewhat arbitrary:

    • the hard cases

The first challenge and priority is the defence of human and minority rights in dictatorial countries. It should be remembered that there are many different kinds of dictatorships, ranging from a completely closed country such as North Korea to a relatively open authoritarian country such as China, with countries like Burma, Cuba, Turkmenistan, and Belarus somewhere in-between. It is our moral duty to support democracy activists who, in the face of immense adversary, keep the prospect of a democratic alternative alive.

The anti-democracy backlash in so-called semi-authoritarian countries such as Russia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia and Uzbekistan is also of particular concern. Russia is using its sway over energy sources to strengthen government controls at the expense of democratic space. Zimbabwe is a very tragic case if we realize that the life expectancy in this country has declined in the past 15 years from an average of 64 years, the highest in Sub-Sahara Africa, to 37 years, the lowest in Africa. A clear case of ‘democide’, a government holding on to power at the expense of its people!

Although there are some cautious democratic openings in the Arab region, the reform processes in this part of the world suffer under the misguided invasion of Iraq while the still unresolved Israeli – Palestine conflict continues to be an excuse for the incumbent autocratic regimes in the regions to block profound democratic transitions. The perverse effect of the war in Iraq is that it has set a bad practice example for political reform processes, that makes the international community more reluctant to use their leverage on the regimes in the region to open up space for democratic reform. Yet, we should be wise not to isolate the forces for change in the Arab region within our democracy promotion strategies, on the contrary, there is much value to engage more pre-actively into dialogue with political actors throughout the Arab region.

Meanwhile, the negative social learning of the Iraq example reverberates far beyond the Arab region with those reluctant to democratic reforms equating democracy assistance with efforts at regime change. As Madeleine Albright captured it: “President Bush has given democracy promotion a bad name”.

    • Conflict prone countries or failed/failing states

There is a considerable number of African countries with fragile, weak(ening) or failed states, with fragmented national identities and prone to violent conflict. Sudan (Dafur), Somalia, DRC, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo all fall in various degrees within this category. Risk of contaminating violence in neighbouring democratizing countries remains high on the African continent. Stronger regional cooperation, as is encouraged through the African Union and other new African instruments, are expected to provide the frameworks for containing the violence and for assisting democratic state and nation building processes.

A priority in the context of democracy promotion is to provide long-term commitments, preferably through AU peacekeeping and building troops but alternatively through UN troops (who today deploy 100.000 soldiers in 18 countries) to sustain security for the reconstruction and democratic state-building period. The priority is to think inclusive and dare to take a long-term view that overcomes the exit-strategy syndrome, which has been all too fashionable.

    • emerging democracies at various stages

In Latin America, the twenty-five years of democracy after the overthrow of the dictatorships on the continent, have taught that political reforms did not go deep enough. Over-dependency on economic market reforms, as advocated by the Washington Consensus, stagnation in the institutional development of democracy and in enhancing state capacities to deliver security and equitable economic growth, have resulted in pressure on the political systems of many Latin and Central American countries and in the rise of a potentially anti-democratic populism in some countries.

In Bolivia, this instability has – at last – opened up the political space for the political participation of the marginalized indigenous population, prompting reviews of the political architecture in a constituent assembly. In other countries, populist leadership dismantled the fundamentals of the democratic system such as the separation of powers and the rule of law, causing deep rifts within the population as is the case in Venezuela. Still, some Latin American countries have reached a consolidated stage of democracy, for instance Chile and Brazil, which play an important role as reference for peaceful democratic and economic development in other Latin American countries.

In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, democracy is ‘in the air’ or emerging. Countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, to mention a few clear cases – not to mention countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius. The biggest challenge for these countries is to institutionalize the newly chosen multiparty democracy systems, and to make democracy deliver social justice and economic development.

These processes are slow and tedious, but today there is greater acceptance that security and economic development need to go hand in hand with improving democratic governance. Better governance means better conditions for foreign investments. Hence, African governments that are genuinely interested in economic development tend to be more interested in democratic development as well.

This is a very broad category that requires an approach based on economic and political incentives through linkages rather than leverage. Incentives rather than conditionalities, because the latter impact negatively on the capacity of governments to restore accountability towards their electorates.

    • Consolidated democracies

Consolidated democracies are not immune for the effects of globalization. The globalizing market economy has affected the employment and social security of large sections of the electorate in Western established democracies. Because the forces of globalization are beyond people’s control and comprehension, it has resulted in defensive responses within the electorate of established democracies in what can be understood as a ‘withdrawal from modernity’ (back to local communities) and in a resurgence of nationalistic sentiments among a section of our electorates, at least such is the case in many countries within the EU. The faster the world integrates, the more people appear to huddle in religious, ethnic or tribal enclaves. Integration and disintegration appear to feed on each other.

Globalization, understood as the growth in global and regional governance, increases power over people’s lives by institutions that are neither internally democratic nor democratically accountable to the world community of states. As a site of political self-determination, the national state is increasingly exposed to the trans-territorial and supra-territorial governance of a bewildering array of intergovernmental and non-governmental institutions. Someone once observed, that in today’s world nation-states are too small for the big issues and too big for the small issues.

In the long-run, globalization and liberal democracy may be at odds. Social scientists say remarkably little about how democracy can be preserved, let alone enhanced in a more globalized future and democracy assistance practitioners have yet to begin to pose the relevant questions.

Framework for meeting the democracy promotion challenges

The framework I propose is quite simple, consisting of just three elements, and could serve to bring issues together within a coherent and comprehensive perspective. It starts with looking at the big picture while zooming in next at more practical matters, even though in the context of this introduction, the priorities introduced are formulated at an abstract level.

    • Integrating democracy with other foreign policy priorities

Trade, economic cooperation, security cooperation and development have been the mainstay of international cooperation at large. Democracy promotion is more or less taken for granted but is not part of the core foreign policy agenda. For the reasons summarized before, there is a strong case for the argument that foreign policy should encompass three dimensions, three Ds: Defense (security), Development and Democracy.

The three Ds are so interlinked and interrelated that it makes good sense to bring these three dimensions into one policy framework. From my experience, I know that this will meet much institutional resistance because around each of the dimensions specific institutional interests have been established. In my opinion, however, the lessons learned from missed impacts due to fragmented approaches, require that we need to move forward and open the windows for some fresh thinking.

The paradigm developed by Amartya Sen (countries become fit through democracy) and taken up by some high-ranking policy makers within the EU, suggests a sequencing that would make democracy promotion the core objective. Personally, I think we should be careful with sequencing between the various dimensions and with an assumption of direct causal relationships. Historically democracy developed over long periods of time, but in today’s world time is in short supply. In my work in democracy promotion, I have learned that the one dimension does not go without the other. It is not either/or, but it is and/and. The art is to find in each specific situation the right balance between the dimensions and to attune interventions to the pace and rhythm of change that societies can manage peacefully.

Such an integrated approach should ideally be accompanied by a more inclusive and better coordinated approach for action by the different actors in the foreign policy and international cooperation establishments, both (inter)governmental and non-governmental bodies. The establishment of your Democracy Council is offering a good step in that direction.

Within such an overall policy framework or integrated approach (also referred to as multidimensional approach), two priority areas can be distinguished, namely democracy promotion and democracy assistance. The latter comprises of technical, financial, educational, support provided in the form of programmes and/or projects to advance specific democracy advancement objectives. The former encompasses the full set of policy instruments, soft and hard power, to assist in widening the space for the advancement of democracy.

  • Priorities for democracy promotion
    • Contributing to a coherent approach


It is important to map all strategies, methods, instruments and approaches of government assistance or international interventions that relate to the advancement of democracy. A more focussed integrated policy framework for democracy promotion should be an important tool to manage and monitor both active and passive results of government actions. It will also be helpful to harmonize approaches with international partners in this field and as review instrument to learn lessons in this complex field.

    • The value of leading by example

Practicing the values underpinning democracy within international interactions and in the provision of international assistance, is an important asset in demonstrating to aspiring democracies the ‘attraction’ of democratic governance. Our prosperity and peace has been built on democracy. The cultural dimension of globalization dwells on the diffusion of values. By downgrading the norms of democratic practice (as has happened in the war-on-terrorism for example), some of the highly mobile cultural responses could well constitute threats to democratization almost anywhere warns the British academic Peter Burnell. The application of double standards should be avoided. Advocating transparency and accountability in young democracies but not enforcing the same principles on citizens or companies is counterproductive for the advancement of democracy abroad. There are good reasons to consider a concerted offensive approach by like-minded countries to redress some of the negative fall-out caused by the Iraq war.

    • Use of democracy audit instruments

Sometime back Sweden has introduced the use of democracy audits for its development cooperation, which are debated in Parliament. It is helpful to assess the consistency with which the set of objectives for the advancement of democracy are pursued. The use of this or similar tools will be helpful to encourage public debate about democracy promotion.

    • Mindful of globalization on our own democracy

The forces of technology and capitalism, with their global outreach and driven onward by a self-generated momentum, strain the bonds of social control and the political sovereignty of nation-states. Globalization constrains national powers of taxation and exchange rates, has widened disparities of wealth both within and between nations, drags down labour standards and is degrading the environment as exemplified by the significant global warming we are currently witnessing (visiting Ottawa in the heart of winter without snow!). As globalization is thus limiting the capacity of nations to shape their own destiny, it has created a world economy without a world polity. Where does this leave democracy in times to come? Is there sufficient awareness and concern within established democracies that the dynamics of globalization also challenge the very functioning of democracy? While even seasoned capitalists like George Soros have raised such concerns, are we paying attention?

  • Priorities for democracy assistance

Under this subject I distinguish three challenges:

    • Including political society in democracy assistance

One of the missing or weak links in international democracy assistance, is the omission of political society. Political society defined as that stratum of political institutions that form the link between citizens and civil society on one hand and the state or executive on the other. The value and need of better functioning parliaments is receiving increasing attention, but institutional support for political parties and political system development has mostly been a no-go area.

Political parties are the core intermediary institutions in representative democracies. They aggregate the demands of society, translate these demands into policy options and mediate these options between society and the state. Well functioning political parties offer citizens the opportunity to participate in and to contribute to the political process. And very importantly, parties select the political leadership. Finally, they play a vital role in the electoral process for public office.

Today, most of these important functions are not fulfilled by political parties in emerging democracies. This may be due to the politics of patronage by the chefs or adverse conditions within the electoral system that prevent the institutional development of parties. Also, the lack of financial resources in poor societies is a great obstacle. Politics is often primarily seen as the struggle for power and over the delivery of public goods, contributing to an absence of transparency in internal decision-making and a hostile environment among civil society organizations against political parties. However, if we want stable democratic systems of governance, we have no choice but to address the current weaknesses in the way in which political parties function.

In the Netherlands, the government has recently introduced a separate funding policy for political society assistance within its development cooperation budget separate from the existing (and much bigger) budget line for organizations that support civil society. That is a recognition of the importance of political society for democratic development, an example that you may want to follow.

    • Recognizing the political dimension

It is perhaps understandable that development thinking and governance support is currently dominated by the assumption that purely technocratic or a-political solutions can address poverty and stimulate economic growth around the world, objectives which are all inherently political as well. But if one studies the evolution of the governance concept, you will find that it is now starting to incorporate – very gradually – the political dimension of government reform. You can say that through a backwards evolution, we now start to recognize the importance of democratic systems of governance.

In this regards, a recent speech (October 23rd , 2006) by Hilary Benn, the British Minister for International Development Corporation at the Department for International Development (DfID) acknowledged that politics matters. Politics changes things. And it is democracy that makes politics possible. The implications will be profound he mentioned as DFID will take a more complete (read political) view of governance. The EU Commissioner for Development Cooperation, Louis Michel, is making democratic governance a top priority, explicitly including the political dimension. Earlier, I mentioned similar policy statements by the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation.

If we continue to build democracy by means of technocratic approaches, we end up disempowering the people who are responsible for providing political leadership to build their nations. It also implies that accountability is often reversed towards the international donor community, taking away the opportunity for a necessary debate on issues within the political realm of a country, a debate which should the fuel of each democratic system.

There can be no political stability unless accountability of the leadership rests with the people that the leadership is supposed to serve. That requires democratic systems of government with the checks-and-balances I mentioned before.

    • Centrality of local ownership and national reform agendas

Ghandi already observed, that: ‘..the spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It must come from within.’ For democracy to become consolidated, it has to grow from within countries, step by step institutionalising and constructing the political processes, corresponding to the values which are intrinsic to plural democracy. Values such as respect for diversity and pluriformity, tolerance, justice, due process, freedom of speech and assembly and peaceful conflict resolution.

In discussing the state of democratic development in Africa, former President Ben Mkapa from Tanzania stated, that one of the biggest obstacles to democratic development and stability in Africa today, is the lack of trust among the political parties. To overcome this deficit in trust, an essential asset for a stable political system, dialogue is the key instrument to overcome this obstacle.

Democracy assistance should be geared toward developing trust in the political process among political rivals, contributing to less polarization, less fragmentation and more institutionalization. International partners with the required confidence of the national political actors, can play an important role in facilitating dialogues about needed reforms to address gaps in the democratic dispensation of the country. Such dialogues often result in national reform agendas with high content of local ownership because of the engagement of national actors. In fact, such agendas could well complement the PRSP’s and international partners would be advised to align their assistance with the implementation of such agendas.

In fact, in countries where political parties have taken initiatives to develop such national political reform strategies, such as Ghana and Zambia, they refer to Democracy Consolidation Strategy Papers (DCSP). Key in these processes is that the preparation of such strategies be fully locally driven to give the democratic practice of achieving consensus, without patronizing pressure from abroad. a chance.

Let me now focus on how NIMD practices its strategy of advancing democracy and its objectives.

The strategy of NIMD

The NIMD was established as a multiparty instrument to support the institutional development of political parties or groupings and pluriform democratic political systems in young democracies. This mandate has been translated into three programmatic areas (see annex 1 for the NIMD intervention strategy):

  1. improving the functioning of multiparty political systems;
  2. advancing the institutional development of political parties;
  3. strengthening the relation between political parties and civil society

The multiparty approach was chosen as reflection that political parties will not intervene in a biased manner within the internal dynamics of fragile states, respecting the adagio that democracy can not be exported from abroad. Furthermore, it projects the joint responsibility of political parties to assist young democracies with their democratic development on the basis of trusted peer relations. The joint approach by parties across the Dutch political spectrum also allows for the professionalism and continuity that is required in operating in politically sensitive and risky environments.

Over the past four years, NIMD has established partnership relations with 152 parties in 15 countries at four continent and, in addition, regional cooperation progammes of political parties in East and Southern Africa and West Africa. At the end of 2006, NIMD completed its first four year cycle, with a full external institutional evaluation (conducted in the third year) to assess the trends in our impact. This year NIMD starts its second four year programme, core funded by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs from the development cooperation budget.

In the new multi-annual programme 2007 – 2010, NIMD projects an increase in programme funding from our bi- and multilateral programme partners. Strategic partnership relations have been established with ODIHR for the OSCE region and with UNDP for joint cooperation in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Bilaterally, NIMD receives programme funding from a number of bilateral government agencies.

The partnership relationship in which NIMD enters is not time-bound: it involves in principle multi-annual programme funding (although in the start-up phase we usually start with smaller project funding to prepare the ground for a fuller partnership).

The cooperation with political parties in the programme countries is inclusive, meaning that all parties represented in the parliaments and/or officially registered take part in the cooperation. If the political parties in a particular country are interested in cooperation, NIMD invites them to come together to make an analysis of the common challenges in the democratic development of their country and prepare a strategic programme on how to address these challenges. Our role is to facilitate these processes and to fund the implementation of the identified reforms or broker assistance from other interested international partners.

This approach aims at establishing greater trust among the political actors in the political process. It was nicely put recently by one of the opposition leaders in Ghana when he stated that through this cooperation parties are learning to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

Of the 15 counties in our programme, 9 have meanwhile established Centers for Multiparty Democracy (CMDs) through which they seek to institutionalize their cooperation on national issues (see also annex 2). These centers come under various names but have in common that they are fully run by the political parties themselves. They focus on two main issues:

  • develop a national agenda and oversee its implementation;
  • find agreement about the modalities for support to institutional development of political parties.

The feedback on this approach is very encouraging. CMDs promise to become platforms were dialogue continues, even when that sometimes breaks down in the political arena, such as in Boliva and on the constitution in Kenya. The Shared National Agenda in Guatemala, established five years after the 1999 peace accords, signifies the importance of continuing the dialogue after the conclusion of a peace agreement and to establish a democratic culture of peaceful conflict resolution in that country.

Most CMDs have developed Codes of Conduct with enforcement mechanisms to enhance the commitment to adhere to them. CMD Tanzania, called the Tanzania Center for Democracy (TCD), held a ‘healing’ meeting between party leaders following the last general elections in which lessons were learned that should lead to changes in the electoral process.

In Ghana, the leaders of the political parties meet monthly in a chairmen’s caucus to consider issues of national interest, meet the Secretaries General of the parties to discuss the challenges within the institutional development agenda, have parties appointed policy advisers to assist with programmatic issues, and engage party leaders each other more frequently on radio and television in debates on policy issues. An advisory board consisting of eminent personalities from Ghanaian civil society, meets occasionally to reflect on the progress made in the inter-party cooperation in Ghana and provides feedback to the political parties. Party leaders have also engaged the media in an effort to establish better understanding about the roles both play and the challenges both face in consolidating democracy in Ghana.

Interestingly, the political party leaders in Ghana have also taken initiatives to engage their counterparts in neighboring countries that suffer from internal conflict. The dialogue initiated in the way, has meanwhile contributed to the new political openness in Togo, while the political parties in Sierra Leone have started to engage each other in a national dialogue.

In addition to some of the activities mentioned above, we note that these national inter-party dialogues are moving to district levels while there is also an increasing emphasis on active participation of women, youth and other underrepresented groups, such as the indigenous population, in the political process.

Some of the national strategic programmes are now being elaborated into Democratic Consolidation Strategy Papers (DCSPs), prepared by and discussed among political parties. If this evolution continues, these nationally prepared strategy papers could in future become the political complement of the PRSP’s.

Another very important activity is assistance for the institutional development of individual political parties. This assistance is only provided in the context of an agreed framework between the political parties and implemented with the greatest transparency and accountability, whereby we are in the process of introducing performance based criteria. Again, the entry point is the preparation by the parties of a strategic programme to set the priorities and to indicate how they want to move from A to B and what assistance is thereby required. NIMD has observed some tangible results from this approach. Parties now have, many for the first time, an agreed programme in writing to which their cadres can refer. It encourages debate within parties. There is a new focus on internal elections for party leadership with the need to perform such elections in a free and fair manner and on the need to prepare party platforms.

The final point is that these CMD are starting to act as the national liaison institutions for international partners wishing to provide democracy assistance to political society and support for the implementation of the national strategies and/or the institutional development of political parties.

The European Foundation for Democracy through Partnership

Little over two years ago NIMD organized a European wide conference on the subject of enhancing Europe’s role democracy assistance. The reason was that partners in young democracies often complain that there is no telephone number in Brussels when it comes to democracy assistance. There are a number of organizations in Europe working in the field of democracy assistance, but they are all national. While Europe is developing its common foreign and security policy it was felt that democracy promotion should become a more central and operational foreign policy goal.

The conference focused primarily on identifying what the specific European identity is in democracy assistance and has built an agenda for strengthening Europe’s contribution to democracy assistance abroad. This agenda focuses on the European Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Parliament and political foundations in Europe. I am happy to inform you, that since that conference a number of concrete steps forward on this agenda can be listed which – in conclusion of this introduction – I like to share with you:

  • The Policy Unit of the Council of Ministers of the EU, in conjunction with the European Commission produced a first discussion paper on the subject of EU democracy promotion in July 2006 under the title: The EU Approach to Democracy Promotion in External Relations: Food for Thought. The paper is currently discussed within the EU Council by the Peace and Security Committee of the EU Member States;
  • Members of the European Parliament established a Democracy Caucus that meets to advance EU democracy assistance;
  • The European Parliament accepted in December 2006, following extended negotiations with the European Commission and the Council, a new Regulation for a financing instrument for the promotion of Democracy and Human Rights Worldwide, which includes an opening for assistance to political party development;
  • Within the context of the EU – ACP cooperation, the EU has introduced in the financial allocation for the next five year programming period, a 12% governance bonus for those ACP countries performing well in democratic governance (€2.7 billion on a total budget of €22.6 billion);
  • An initiative has been taken for the establishment of the European Foundation for Democracy through Partnership that should operate independently from the EU institutions with core functions such as becoming a knowledge hub for activities related to European democracy assistance and with a grant-making capacity that can respond in a flexible and responsive manner to opportunities for advancing democracy.


To conclude, I would like to reiterate the following four messages:

  • Democracy has been oversold (it moves more or less by itself from autocracy to democracy), missold (applying a too narrow democracy concept or using democracy promotion for other agendas) but, at the same time, undersold. There is no alternative for democracy.
  • Democracy assistance providers need to revisit the concept of democracy beyond electoral competition. It should be aimed at institutionalizing democratic practice so that trust will develop among the key players in the political process. It implies, that political society, including political parties, needs to be part of democracy assistance.
  • No one country can fix the problems of this world on its own. It may go against the current trend, but we need to be on the offensive in multilateral approaches and in building democratic global governance institutions. Hence, also the importance of investing in our transatlantic cooperation.
  • Finally, if democracy is at the root of our own peace and prosperity in Canada and in the European Union, we need to upgrade the focus on democracy promotion within our foreign policy objectives (introduce a 3D foreign policy!), programmes and finances.

Thank you very much!

Ottawa, Canada
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