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Europe’s Eroding Democracies

Window to democracy? Photo: mr.beutel/flickr

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy index 2011, democracy throughout the world has once again come under stress in 2011. If the EIU has got it right, 48 countries have become less democratic, compared to 41 that were able to increase their democracy score. This might come as a surprise to those who expected a rather different outcome due to the effect which Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites supposedly have on freedom of expression – but that is another story.

There were, of course, regional differences in this wider downward trend. It is just that this time around, some of the regions that were best known for their democratic underperformance and stagnation have become more democratic while “taken-for-granted” democracies have started to backslide in recent years.

The encouraging news is that the waves of protest that rocked the Arab world in 2011 seem to have had a positive effect on democracy, at least in some countries. Tunisia in particular, the country with the highest increase in its democracy score in 2011, changed its regime type from ‘authoritarian’ to ‘hybrid’ (the EIU report distinguishes four types of political regime: ‘full democracies’, ‘flawed democracies’, ‘hybrid regimes’ and ‘authoritarian regimes’). While uprisings are still ongoing in other countries of the MENA region, and while the path to democracy remains a stony one, there nevertheless is further potential for more democratic change in the months and years ahead. Many Sub-Saharan African countries have also scored higher on the latest EIU democracy index than in the previous year. » More

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