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Speech by State Secretary Diana Janse at the launch of IDEA's report on EU external democracy action


Speech delivered by Diana Janse, State Secretary to Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, at the launch of IDEA's report on EU external democracy action in Brussels on 31 January 2023.

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Distinguished guests,

We live in defining times.

We have had years of global democratic backsliding.

Almost two decades of this authoritarian wave have wiped out most of the democratic gains from the past quarter century.

The global level of democracy is now back to where it was before the Berlin Wall came down.

In 2012, 12 countries were facing democratic recession while 16 countries were struggling with deepening autocratisation.

In 2021, these numbers had risen to 52 and 34 respectively.


As we meet here today, the number of people who need not only to defend their democracy and freedom but also to fight for them seems to be growing by the day.

The brave soldiers who defend Ukraine from Russian aggression, or the rescue teams that dig up their neighbours or family members buried in the rubble of yet another Ukrainian home bombed by Russia.

The brave dissidents who use their right to a final word in Russian mock trials.

The Afghan former member of parliament, Mursal Nabizada, who was murdered just a few weeks ago, simply for being a woman and a politician. A role model for all Afghan women and girls, who are now being deprived of all their liberties – their right to education, to work, to freedom of movement.

Opposition leaders shot, or poisoned, or jailed.

Journalists disappearing or murdered for their readers’ right to the truth.

Human rights and democracy defenders – intimidated, harassed, and even killed – just for making their voices heard.

All of democracy’s foot soldiers who risk their lives for what many in our part of the world had long taken for granted.

Our freedom. Our liberties. Our democracy.

In that respect, the brutality of the war in Ukraine has been a hard and sharp wake-up call.


Around the world, we are now witnessing how autocracies are failing to deliver for their citizens, and how discontent and protests are growing as a result.

The fear that autocrats have for the ordinary citizen – with a pen in a little booth, putting a mark on a little piece of paper – is expressed in many ways.

One is brutal violence.

Another is the attempts in multilateral forums to undermine human rights as well as efforts to frame human rights as “Western values.”

In fact, the history of democracy is global. And more importantly, democracy is a universal aspiration.

No-one wishes to be governed by people they cannot vote out of office.


Meanwhile, the democratic world has stepped up to find joint solutions: in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, to the Covid 19 pandemic, to the energy crisis and to the food security crises.

Alliances between the democracies of the world have grown stronger.

Democracies outperform autocracies in all areas: economic growth, the combating of poverty, level of education, social services, health, the delivery of services, such as clean water and internet access, gender equality, peace and security between and within states.

Democratic governments are more efficient, productive and responsive than autocracies.

We can proudly state that democracy delivers.

And we have good reason to pump up the volume on that particular message.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Sweden holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a time when it is more important than ever to stand up for and defend democracy at home and abroad.

One of our main priorities is democracy and the rule of law – the principles upon which this Union is built.

The priority is highly relevant, both internally and externally, as democratic backsliding, including the undermining of human rights and the rule of law, is a global trend. It has affected us all and highlights the need for all of us to strengthen our democratic institutions

During Sweden’s previous Presidency of the Council of the EU, in 2009, we led the work on a set of Council Conclusions on “Democracy Support in the EU’s External Relations.” The consultations revealed that the EU was not perceived as a global leader on democracy.

Since then, the EU has substantially strengthened its voice for democracy in a series of actions and achievements.


However, the changing geopolitical realities call for renewed action. The mid-term review of the EU Action Plan in June will be an important opportunity for calibrating our future work.

In preparation, Sweden commissioned International IDEA to consult democracy stakeholders on how continued democratic backsliding and new challenges can be met.

The result, in the form of the report we are launching here today, is a broad analysis of how the EU is perceived as a democracy partner.

It includes recommendations on how the EU can adapt to new challenges and further improve its work.

The findings of the report will contribute to discussions on how the EU can strengthen its role as a global democracy actor, and hopefully inspire greater commitment.

That work begins today. I am encouraged by the wide participation here today, of people who have come together in the shared belief that democracy action matters.

And what we do matters.

We are not walk-ons in a scripted drama.

On the contrary: the future of democracy will depend on the decisions we take to defend democracy and freedom. One decision at a time.

We shape our future in these defining times more than ever – for better or for worse.

Let us begin by shaping a new global story on democracy and its precious values.

So precious, people are willing to die for them.

Thank you.