Raising hands for International Day of Democracy on September 15

Governments must do more to defend democracy

Today, on International Democracy Day, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is releasing its most recent edition of the "Sustainable Governance Indicators" (SGI). The tenth edition of the SGI points to a worrisome long-term trend. 

Contact Person

Foto Christof Schiller
Dr. Christof Schiller
Senior Project Manager


Now in our 14th year of celebrating International Democracy Day, a day intended to encourage governments around the world to strengthen and protect democracy, we are called upon to reflect on the direction currently taken by OECD and EU states – those that should feel most committed to the model of a liberal democracy.

If grades were given for government performance in terms of how well essential liberal democratic processes and institutions have been strengthened and consolidated, we would see a continuous decline in the average grade for governments worldwide. For example, the average (unweighted) rating given by our experts for governments in the democracy quality category fell from 7.3 to 7.0. Though there are a few positive exceptions, such as South Korea, overall, we see continuous and sometimes dramatic declines in the quality of democracy. Our democracy ranking continues to be led by the Nordic countries Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Estonia, with Germany being ranked 7th. Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Mexico are still at the bottom of the list, showing further – and in some cases enormous – declines.

Declining opportunities for an informed citizenry

This downward trend is driven by deteriorating opportunities for citizens to participate in the political process and, most notably, in an increasingly narrow access to relevant information.  In the past decade, freedom of information, media pluralism and media freedom have come under – in some cases fierce – attack in nearly half (19) of the countries surveyed. States in which the opportunities for participation were already below average have suffered declines in this regard. On the question addressing the extent to which state institutions guarantee civil and political rights while protecting citizens from discrimination, 12 states have also shown a worsening situation, in some cases considerably, compared with 2012. The Nordic states, however, have proved able to further consolidate their top position in both areas.

Robust democracy and good governance must go hand in hand

Robust democratic institutions and processes are a necessary prerequisite but, on their own, offer no guarantee for overcoming the new (at the same time old) crises we face: global order and inter-system competition, the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, social division and rising inequality. These crises, and in particular their combined impact, require governments to demonstrate long-term thinking and acumen in crisis management. If these crises are to be successfully navigated, governments will need to do more than identify and announce sustainable policy solutions; they will need to institute more inclusive and forward-looking policymaking processes in order to ensure the effectiveness of those measures in the longer term. The evidence shows that well-organized democracies navigate their way through crises better than do those with deficits in this area. Therefore, in addition to the category "robust democracy," the categories "sustainable policy solutions" and "good governance" have always been important complementary areas of analysis for the Sustainable Governance Indicators.

Our redesigned data portal sgi-network.org offers users the opportunity to address these issues from very different perspectives. Users can track developments over time, create their own rankings and weightings of individual aspects or view correlations. In addition, our informative country reports provide full assessments and the details specific to each country for each rating. This fall, we will be publishing further in-depth analyses of progress made in the areas of strategy development, policy coordination and consensus-building.

We would be delighted to have you take a closer look at this year's findings. This 10th edition of the SGI examines the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and provides key insights into states' resilience to crisis in democracy, policy performance and governance capacities. Each country report and the full set of quantitative data are accessible for free online at www.sgi-network.org. For the third time, our survey also includes expert assessments of issues such as political polarization, open government, digitalization uptake in interministerial coordination efforts, the effectiveness and quality of ex-post evaluations as well as regulatory enforcement.

You can follow us on https://twitter.com/ProjectSGI and stay informed of our recent analyses and project activities.