Foreign Affairs
Human Rights

Speech at the Meeting of the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies

Brussels -
Monday, April 11, 2011

Dear President Zingeris,
Dear President Lupu,
Dear Colleagues,
Dear friends,

I am delighted to be able to welcome you to the European Parliament. Last year in Krakow, when we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Community of Democracies, we spoke about the need for democracy to deliver - and for us to practise what we preach.

Last year only forty-six percent of the world's population was living in a democracy. Who would have thought that today this number would be rising so quickly?

Many of us still hear the cries for "bread, freedom and dignity" resounding from the squares of Cairo, Tunis and across the Arab world. As I watched the young protesters on TV, I remembered the wind of change that swept through Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. Once more we are living history.

As an organisation dedicated to the strengthening of democracy worldwide, our Community has a special responsibility to support the aspirations of people wherever they are. I am encouraged that the conclusions of these past two days are to adjust our support so that we can meet the demands of our time.

Eleven years ago Madeleine Albright and Bronislaw Geremek created this Forum because they were convinced that democracies have a special role to play in promoting democracy. Not by preaching, but by doing.

Today, we are paying special attention to elections in Tunisia, Egypt, but also in Nigeria. As a Forum we can help the UN and regional bodies monitor these elections by providing observers. But, we must never forget that democracy is a road travelled, and not a destination. Elections on their own are not enough.

Dear Friends,

I would like to raise two issues with you today. My first point is that we need to strengthen the parliamentary dimension of democracy support. Without a proper parliament there cannot be proper democracy. This is a role for us gathered here, as the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies.

Among us are parliamentarians who have experience in economic and political transformation. There are experts who know how to best strengthen parliamentary procedures. Let us use this expertise to help our colleagues in countries in transition.

I can assure you that we in the European Parliament - with our 41 interparliamentary delegations and through our Office for the Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy - are committed to this.

Dear Colleagues,

For a new democracy to stay, it must gain the trust and legitimacy of the people it seeks to represent. It is not enough for us to give electoral support - it is also essential that the new parliaments are properly empowered so that they can hold their governments accountable.

Democracy support can only make a difference on the ground if we manage to translate our ideas into concrete and effective instruments and procedures. Our support has to be about making democracy deliver in practice, because it is practice that makes democracy stronger.

The more we can help newly elected parliaments perform their core democratic functions - legislation, oversight, representation - the more democracy stands to gain.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This leads me to my second point - developments in Europe's neighbourhood, and what we can do to help.

As many of us know, building a democratic state is never easy. Sometimes it takes two steps forward and one step back. Recently, in some countries, we are seeing one step forward and three steps back!

Democratic development is under threat in our regions. In Belarus especially, but also in other parts of our Eastern neighbourhood we are seeing a roll-back of democracy. Moldova is the exception and continues to progress, but its democracy remains fragile.

It is therefore very important that we show our commitment and help our Eastern neighbours stay on the democratic track.

In the South the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that there too exists a need for political freedom, democratisation and human dignity. Events in the region have proven that real stability comes only with democracy.

In both regions the Community of Democracies can help provide technical assistance and institution building. This means building a civil society and an independent judiciary, legal system and parliament. As well as reforming the military and security services.

But to truly succeed in the long term, we must help bring prosperity to meet the high expectations of the people. There has to be a democratic dividend. The European Parliament has called for greater market access, for student exchanges and more funds available through the European Investment Bank.

Other democracies could follow by proposing similar partnerships. I believe there is a need for more coordination and exchange of best practices among us.

This is an issue I raised last month at meetings of the NDI and GMF. I am convinced that the Transatlantic Community should work as closely together as possible. Between us we are the largest donors of aid but we should be players and not just payers.

By joining in these efforts, we can help the new democracies consolidate, and eventually welcome them as enthusiastic members of our Community. There are representatives from 100 countries here. Together we can achieve great things.

In conclusion let me share this final thought with you. Just weeks ago, I met young protestors in Tunis and on Tahrir square. They reminded me of an important lesson we learned in Europe just two decades ago. They reminded me that real change does not come from top-down, but from bottom-up. They reminded me that real change does not come from outside, but from within.

And above all, they reminded me that democracy can never be taken for granted.  It should be fought for, and once attained it should be well guarded. Let us be thankful to them for reminding us of this important lesson.

Thank you


Richard Freedman

(Press Officer)

Mobile: +32 498 98 32 39