Europe's Democracy - Crisis or Renewal?

Democracy does not have it easy in Europe: it has to cope with major challenges of climate change and digitalisation, ensure freedom, sufficient participation and good life for citizens, and respond to security threat of the war in the immediate vicinity. Democracy in Europe has to deal with all of it while, in the meantime, the faith in the ability of democratic politics to act is declining. For the final round table in the series ‘Demokratie im Stresstest’ we invited Anna Lührmann, member of the German Bundestag and Minister of State for Climate and Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, and Tanja Börzel, professor at Freie Universität Berlin to discuss how democracy in Europe deals with this uneasy conundrum.

Contact Person

Foto Andrey Demidov
Dr. Andrey Demidov
Project Manager


Despite the diagnosis of crisis, there is reason for hope: European integration makes many states more resilient to crises, as the concerted action during the pandemic or the European Green Deal proved. Europe is seen as an anchor of democracy in the world. Accession expectations of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the West Balkans confirm that freedom and democracy continue to have great appeal. 

However, neither democracy in the states of Europe nor the EU are unchallenged. Some Member States suppress free media, independent judiciary and a free civil society and also put the brakes on all the Union's reform processes. This confronts the EU with the crucial question: how should the EU deal with the diversity of democratic and political ideas among its members? Should it insist on a uniform compliance with its core principles at the risk of decision-making incapacity, or does the multi-speed Europe project hold promise? The participants agreed that no compromises on fundamental rights and the rule of law is justified and desired. The EU today is more than the economic union of the early days: it is a community based on the rule of law. 

What, however, should be done to increase the European democracy ability to act and deliver to the citizens? The prospect of enlargement brings alone new challenges: more member states will strain the consensus-based decision-making even further, whereas speedy enlargement can also sacrifice the EU focus on the rule of law. Additionally, what are the options for the institutional reform and decision-making mechanisms? Which decisions must be taken in Brussels, which ones - in the capitals, which ones - elsewhere?  These questions become even more urgent as the EU will have to ensure implementation of massive projects such as the Green Deal as well as effectively regulate in areas such a technological platforms and AI.

Democracy in Europe is still strong and resilient, yet its appeal to citizens clearly depends on whether democratic politics in Europe is capable of effective and timely resolution of these dilemmas followed by concrete and credible actions.