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Supporting democracies under pressure

Introductory remarks delivered at the panel “The Summit for Democracy: A Transatlantic Readout”, organized by the German Marshall Fund’s Paris and Washington Chapters

Virtually held in Paris, France
December 14, 2021

Ms de Hoop Scheffer, Director of the Paris Office of the German Marshall Fund,
Mr Lafont-Rapnouil, Director of Policy Planning, French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs,
Ms Thornton, Director and Senior Fellow, Alliance for Securing Democracy, German Marshall Fund,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In their competition with authoritarian regimes, as well as in their efforts to counter illiberal trends at home, democracies are struggling to establish a concerted strategy. They need to stand together and enhance pragmatic, consistent and unwavering cooperation. This is why Canada actively participated at the US’ Summit for Democracy on December 9th and 10th.

In a world that is not binary, where there are all kinds of gray areas between well-established democracies and authoritarian regimes, it was inevitable that the list of countries invited to this summit garnered much public scrutiny. However, no one can dispute that additional coordination between democrats is an urgent necessity.

Democracies must strengthen their cohesion and act in concert, as many have done by signing Canada’s Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention, by joining the Media Freedom Coalition, which Canada co-chairs, the Freedom Online Coalition, which Canada will chair in 2022, or through the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism, which Canada leads.

The need for better joint action is evident when it comes to sanctioning violations of human rights, fighting impunity, holding corrupt wrongdoers accountable, and calling out malicious cyber activity carried out by authoritarian actors. Canada knows full well that being alone in sanctioning a regime, which has violated human rights or which has threatened its neighbors, will have little effect. To have a chance to stem bad behavior from both state and non-state transgressors, democrats must respond together.

Similarly, Canada is convinced that its feminist foreign policy will be all the more effective, when numerous democratic states place gender equality, inclusion and respect for diversity at the center of all their international efforts.

And if Prime Minister Trudeau announced at the Democracy Summit increased support for international election observation missions, it is because Canada knows that these international missions are part of an effective concerted effort to support free, fair and inclusive elections and, more generally, democratic societies.  

If there is one area of ​​action in particular that will require better cooperation, and on which Prime Minister Trudeau insisted during the Summit for Democracy, it is the necessity to expand support for fragile and emerging democracies; for countries and governments that are striving, against all odds, to keep democracy alive, in conditions that people in well-established democracies cannot even imagine. We must better encourage these "good players".

Admittedly, what these courageous democrats are doing is far from perfect, but it would be a mistake to look down on them. One needs to take into account the history of the country, the weight of its authoritarian past and its traditions, the weak entrenchment of democratic institutions and values, the precarious economic situation, or its geographic isolation in regions often grappling with instability and autocracies.  And we must consider and lend our support to those on the ground, to civil society and human rights defenders, that continue to work to implement democratic values and principles. 

Well-established democracies should look at a map of the world, locate democracies under pressure and consider how they can effectively support them amidst the squalls and turmoil, while understanding that these democracies are attempting to persevere under extremely difficult conditions.

Enhanced action on this front is even more necessary as economic contractions, caused by COVID, continue to aggravate the instability of fragile democracies.

Another aggravating factor that justifies increased support for these fragile and emerging democracies is the alarming deterioration of ecosystems that support life. Military and climate experts warn that severe and growing environmental disruptions intensified by human made climate change, are an amplifying factor of conflict, instability, and irregular migration.

It is in this spirit that my government asked me, as Prime Minister Trudeau's Special Envoy to Europe, to report on how Canada, with its allies, could better support Armenian democracy.

Why Armenia’s democracy? Consult the renowned international benchmarks: Freedom House, the Democracy Index of the Economist, Transparency International, International IDEA, the World Bank’s Governance indicators, etc. They all place Armenia among the countries that have made the most progress towards increased democracy in recent years. Armenia is, at present, the archetype of democracy under intense pressure, which is striving to improve itself and, therefore, deserves our full support.

To conclude, I would like to inject a dose of cautious optimism. The reality is that democracy has been too rare an exception in history and so we should not be surprised that its progress is facing a formidable opponent in authoritarianism.

But it's not all bad news. While citizens sometimes question the ability of democratic governments to deliver, the demand for freedom, democracy and human rights often remains strong. Pro-democracy movements are braving repression. Some democratic states are showing admirable resilience.  It will take deliberate and sustained efforts to support them and reverse backsliding trends.

In this struggle, Canada has an important role to play, to improve democracy at home and to act in concert with other democracies in the world with all efficiency possible.

Stéphane Dion
Ambassador of Canada to Germany and Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe

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