The EU tries to foster the development of democracy around the world through election observation missions, by encouraging institution building and supporting human rights defenders but "double standards and inconsistencies" undermine the EU's credibility, according to Belgian Socialist Véronique De Keyser, who is drafting a report on EU tools in favour of democratisation.
"Thus far the EU has failed to promote democracy", concluding alliances with many kinds of regimes, including dictatorships like Libya, she said. Eventually "the paradigm of stability must give way to the paradigm of democracy"
Election observation missions
With elections at the core of democratic systems, the EU Election observation missions are of crucial importance. MEPs and EU officials are sent to third countries to check that the voting process respects democratic standards - that there is pluralism, no intimidation, no fraud and that everyone has access to polling stations - and authenticate the results.
There have been 110 missions since 1993. For example 120 observers from 23 countries went to Ivory Coast in November to check on 1000 of the 2000 polling stations. They found small irregularities but no fraud. In January, 104 observers from 30 countries observed the referendum for independence in Southern Sudan.
"However, observers’ reports of electoral fraud have not always generated a reaction from the EU as regards its policies towards the countries concerned," Ms De Keyser said, recommending improvements in taking into account observers' conclusions.
The EP supports parliaments worldwide through Joint parliamentary assemblies bringing together MEPs and MPs from third countries to discuss common challenges and jointly tackle human rights and democracy issues. However, the results of these meetings often don't "filter through" to the respective parliaments.
The EP's Office for the Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy (OPPD) helps by sharing best practices with MPs and officials from emerging democracies. It welcomes groups of MPs and officials from third countries like the delegation of high-ranking officials from the Mauritanian National Assembly who came for a four-day study visit in April.
Developing fertile ground for the emergence of democracy
Democracy isn't just about elections and institution building. Education, respect for human rights and freedom of speech are crucial in creating a sustainable democratic culture. So the EU's development policy is also a way to strengthen democracy, through association agreements and commercial agreements.
Respect for human rights is a prerequisite for the signature of association agreements with third countries. "A condition that is all too frequently flouted," Ms De Keyser said. "Breaches of the human rights clause are penalised very rarely," she added, calling for a stronger oversight role for the EP.
Supporting human rights defenders
The EP also strongly supports human rights defenders, most notably through its Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, awarded every year since 1988. It allows the EP to put pressure on non-democratic regimes by publicising the work of those opposing them.
The report is expected to be voted in the Foreign Affairs Committee on 6 June.