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This panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Embassy of Sweden,

the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

(IDEA), and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It was
moderated by Thomas Carothers, the Vice President for Studies at the
Carnegie Endowment, and the panelists included Maria Leissner,
Swedish Ambassador for Democracy in Development Cooperation;
Vidar Helgesen, Secretary General of International IDEA; Ingrid
Wetterqvist, director of the project “Democracy in Development” at
International IDEA; Pia Bungarten, representative to the US and
Canada of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES); and Larry Garber,
expert consultant to USAID.

In his opening remarks, Swedish Ambassador Jonas Hafström noted

that the topic of the discussion was significant because the EU is one of
the most important global actors for democracy support and human
rights, and the Obama administration is redefining US policies on
democracy support. Thomas Carothers then articulated the attitude
with which I had initially approached the event—that it seems like the
question of convergence on democracy support policies between the
US and the EU is a simple one. After all, both the US and the EU value
democracy and desire its spread across the globe. However, Carothers
pointed out that while the 1990s saw significant convergence of US
and European efforts, the 2000s saw underlying differences in
attitudes and methodology of democracy support come to the fore, in
particular with the US-led war in Iraq. Despite this recent divergence,
the new Obama administration and the EU’s adoption of the Lisbon
Treaty make this year an opportunity for policy convergence.

Ingrid Wetterqvist began the discussion with a presentation on her

project “Democracy in Development: global consultations on the EU’s
role in democracy building.” The project reached four main
recommendations for EU democracy support: the EU should 1) use its
own internal experiences of reconciliation, cooperation, and integration
(and democratizing Eastern Europe) to inform its external action, 2)
apply a broader understanding of democracy to its policies, 3) stand by
long-term commitments, and 4) form genuine partnerships with
democratizing nations.

Maria Leissner then began the panel discussion by pointing out how
timely this event turned out to be: three days before (on 17 November)
the Council of the EU approved a six-page document, “Conclusions on
Democracy Support in the EU’s External Relations,” that affirms the
EU’s commitment to democracy support and aims to improve the
coherence, complementarity, and coordination of EU democracy
support policies. Leissner described the report as a response to the
need to redefine what democracy support is all about, and provide an
alternative to the Iraq War model. This approach stresses “democracy
and human rights as integral parts of development.” It is also meant to
be a more humble, less preachy approach, where partners are treated
as equals and the EU leads by example. Leissner asserted that the
Conclusions will change the way the EU conducts democracy support
(and development), and would serve well as a strategy or inspiration
for US democracy support policy. When other panelists pointed out
that the practical effects of the Conclusions have yet to be seen,
Leissner said that the document was “a beginning, but a good

Next, Pia Bungarten stressed the shared values, motivations, and goals
of EU and US democracy support, but said that there were not enough
fora for discussion and constructive debate. Larry Garber brought a
realistic point of view to the discussion and noted that in some areas,
national security and other vital interests are involved, which often
affects democracy support, and that such nuances must be kept in
mind. The panelists all seemed to see some possibility of increased
convergence and cooperation between the US and EU on democracy
support policies. They also stressed the idea of democracy support
rather than democracy promotion, supporting partner countries in
establishing democracy rather than pushing democracy on unwilling

During the discussion, Thomas Carothers interjected with a few

interesting points. He asked whether the convergence in policy which
the panelists were discussing was really a convergence, or simply the
US giving up its approach and moving more towards the EU’s methods.
He also noted that linking democracy support with development
support (as the EU Conclusions suggest) sounds great, but what about
countries—such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia—where the EU and
the US are not engaged in development work but still want to
encourage democracy?

Overall, I found this event very interesting. The European approach to

democracy support, as outlined in the Conclusions adopted by the
Council a few days ago, seems like a sensible and positive alternative
to the “nation-building,” democracy-at-gunpoint model pursued by the
Bush administration. It seems like something the Obama
administration could get behind, and then hopefully there can be some
convergence and cooperation between US and European democracy
support policies. However, I do agree with Garber and Carothers that
realistic considerations must also be kept in mind, especially when
dealing with countries such as Russia and China.