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The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2015
Democracy in an age of anxiety
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories—this covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (micro-states are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on their scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself categorised as one of four types of regime: “full democracies”; “flawed democracies”; “hybrid regimes”; and “authoritarian regimes”.
This is the eighth edition of the Democracy Index. It reflects the situation in 2015, a year in which democracy was tested in the face of war, terrorism, mass migration and other crises, and, in some cases, suffered serious setbacks. The title of this year’s report reflects the threat to democracy emanating from the fearful mood of our times, which informs the reactions of ordinary people and political elites alike. An increased sense of personal and societal anxiety and insecurity in the face of diverse perceived risks and threats—economic, political, social and security—is undermining democracy, which depends on a steadfast commitment to upholding enlightenment values (liberty, equality, fraternity, reason, tolerance and free expression) and fostering democratic institutions and a democratic political culture.
In many democracies, political elites worry about their inability to relate to the electorate and fear the challenge that populist parties pose. In some cases, established parties have colluded to exclude or marginalise the populists. In the face of terrorist threats, democratic governments have reacted in anti-democratic ways, calling into question freedom of speech or adopting draconian laws. In non-democratic countries, authoritarian political elites fear the threat from the masses and seek to bolster their rule by imprisoning opponents, restricting the media, limiting popular freedoms and repressing protest. Meanwhile, electorates are ever more anxious—about economic insecurity, about their personal safety, about the consequences of immigration, about the threat of terrorism—and angry that their concerns are not being represented by the established parties. This mood of fear and insecurity represents one of the main threats to democracy today.
Democracy Index 2015, by regime type
|No. of countries||% of countries||% of world population|
Note. “World” population refers to the total population of the 167 countries covered by the Index. Since this excludes only micro-states, this is nearly equal to the entire estimated world population. Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.
Almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies, but, in our index, the number of “full democracies” is low, at only 20 countries; 59 countries are rated as “flawed democracies”. Of the remaining 88 countries in our index, 51 are “authoritarian” and 37 are considered to be “hybrid regimes”. As could be expected, the developed OECD countries dominate among “full democracies”; there are two Asian countries, one Latin American country (Uruguay) and one African country (Mauritius), which suggests that level of development is not a binding constraint, but is a constraint, nevertheless. Slightly less than one-half (48.4%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 8.9% reside in “full democracies”.
“Flawed democracies” are concentrated in Latin America, eastern Europe and Asia. Eastern Europe does not have a single “full democracy”, as some of the region’s most politically developed nations, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, have suffered bouts of political instability and popular support for democracy is surprisingly low. Despite progress in Latin American democratisation in recent decades, many countries in the region have fragile democracies. Levels of political participation are generally low and democratic cultures are weak. Asia has been catching up with Latin America and eastern Europe when it comes to the number of “flawed democracies” (and has overtaken eastern Europe in terms of its average regional score), adding three more to give it a total of 13 in 2015, compared with 15 in both Latin America and eastern Europe. “Authoritarian regimes” are concentrated in Africa, the Middle East and the CIS countries of eastern Europe.
There was no change in the average global score in 2015, which remained at 5.55 (on a scale of 0 to 10). However, four countries fell out of the “full democracy” category (Costa Rica, France, Japan, South Korea) in 2015, bringing the total number of full democracies down to 20 from 24 in 2014.
A total of 61 countries recorded an improvement in their score compared with 2014; 56 recorded a deterioration and 50 retained the same score as in the previous year. Three regions experienced a regression: eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and North America—as signified by a decline in their regional average score, with MENA recording the biggest decline. Four regions—Asia & Australasia, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Latin America, and western Europe—recorded an improvement in their average score, although in the case of the last two, the improvement in the average score compared with 2014 was negligible (0.01), indicating continued stagnation of democracy in these regions.
Democracy under strain, but some bright spots
Important recent developments include:
Since 2008, US democracy has been adversely affected by the increasing polarisation of the political scene and political brinkmanship; the popular mood has soured and faith in political institutions and elites has collapsed. The popularity of presidential contenders Donald Trump (Republican) and Bernie Sanders (Democrat) illustrates the mood of popular disaffection with the status quo.
Popular confidence in political institutions and parties continues to decline in many developed countries. Poor economic performance, weak political leadership and the growing gap between traditional political parties and the electorate have spurred the growth of alternative populist movements in Europe. Discontent with democracy in Europe was expressed in 2015 in the form of growing support for populist parties, which pose an increasing challenge to the established political order, as was illustrated by election results in Greece, Portugal and Spain.
In eastern Europe, where democracy was restored only relatively recently, in 1990-91, there is a mood of deep popular disappointment with democracy, and the former communist bloc has recorded the most dramatic regression of any region during the decade since we launched the Democracy Index, as measured by its average score compared with 2006. As 2015 drew to a close, a further significant challenge to democratic standards was developing in Poland, following the election of a new, socially conservative government.
With the exception of Tunisia, the Arab Spring has given way to a wave of reaction and a descent into violent chaos; the ascendancy of the extreme jihadist Islamic State (IS) and other radical Islamist groups in MENA has been permitted by the political vacuum left behind by the demise of Arab nationalism, the failure of other political forces and the collapse of nation states over the past two decades.
Japanese democracy faced challenges in 2015 and a decline in its score has resulted in its falling into the “flawed democracy” category. South Korea, too, has joined the list of “flawed democracies”. By contrast, relatively free and fair elections in Myanmar, after 50 years of military rule, resulted in its move from “authoritarian regime” to “hybrid regime”.
In China, the tension generated by rising popular support for the concept of democratic government—which resulted in a modest improvement in the country’s score and an eight-position rise in the global rankings, to joint 136th place—and the authoritarian practices of the ruling communist party is increasing.
In 2015 a popular backlash against corruption gathered pace in Latin America—where rampant crime, violence and drug-trafficking, as well as corruption, have had a corrosive impact on democracy—leading to investigations and arrests at the highest levels of government and business in countries such as Brazil and Guatemala.
In SSA, Nigeria experienced in 2015 its first democratic change of power, and Madagascar and Burkina Faso also made progress. However, the score for 18 countries declined in 2015 and, despite an improvement in the average regional score, the average ranking of countries in SSA fell by seven places, suggesting that it is falling behind other regions.
Democracy Index 2015
|Electoral Process and pluralism
|Functiong of government
|United States of America||20||8.05||9.17||7.50||7.22||8.13||8.24|
|Electoral process and pluralism||Functioning of government||Political participation||
|Trinidad and Tobago||47||7.10||9.58||7.14||5.56||5.00||8.24|
|Electoral process and pluralism||Functioning of government||Political participation||
|Papua New Guinea||77||6.03||6.92||6.07||3.89||5.63||7.65|
|Electoral process and pluralism||Functioning of government||Political participation||
|Bosnia and Hercegovina||104||4.83||6.50||2.93||3.89||4.38||6.47|
|Electoral process and pluralism||Functioning of government||Political participation||
|United Arab Emirates||148||2.75||0.00||3.57||2.22||5.00||2.94|
|Central African Republic||164||1.57||1.33||0.00||1.67||2.50||2.35|
Democracy after the “third wave”
The pace of global democratisation accelerated after the start of its so-called “third wave” in 1974, and especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. During the 1970s and 1980s, more than 30 countries shifted from authoritarian to democratic political systems. In recent years, the post-1970s wave of democratisation has slowed or, in the case of some countries, been reversed. There has been a decline in some aspects of governance, political participation and media freedoms, and a clear deterioration in attitudes associated with, or that are conducive to, democracy.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s system of measurement, one-half of the world’s population now lives in a democracy of some sort. However, in recent years, there has been backsliding on previously attained progress and there has also been a mounting sense of popular disappointment with the fruits of democracy. This is the case not only in the new democracies of eastern Europe, but also in some of the oldest democracies in the world, in western Europe—whose regression since 2006, as measured by the decline in its average score, is almost as bad as that in the eastern half of the continent. The other region that has experienced significant backsliding in democracy since the first edition of our Democracy Index is North America, where the decline in the regional average score from 8.64 in 2006 to 8.56 in 2015 is due entirely to regression in the US, whose score fell over the same period, from 8.22 to 8.05 (Canada improved its score slightly over the same period, from 9.07 to 9.08).
Fall-out from the global economic and financial crisis of 2008 has undoubtedly led to a heightened mood of popular disenchantment—especially in Europe–and accentuated some negative trends in political development. Arguably, however, the crisis was not the cause of the poor state of democracy in Europe, but merely helped to reveal longstanding structural weaknesses, especially in the areas of governance. Indeed, the political-legitimacy problems that are manifest in the developed world today had a long gestation.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe at the turn of the 1990s—and the subsequent disarray and retreat of leftist national- liberation movements in the third world—led many to hail the triumph of Western liberal democracy. However, that apparent triumph concealed problems and weaknesses with the functioning of democracy in the Western world, which had been less evident in the period of superpower rivalry during the cold war. Over time, the removal of the repressive and inefficient Soviet system had the unexpected consequence of leaving the Western democratic model more exposed.
In 1994 a British academic, John Gray, argued that the idea of post-communist societies being smoothly integrated into a Western-led capitalist world order was a mirage, if only because that order was confronting difficulties of its own. His argument was that Western institutions, whose legitimacy derived in large part from the cold war and the existence of a communist enemy, had been greatly weakened by the Soviet collapse.
Political developments in both eastern and western Europe in the two decades since have largely borne out Professor Gray’s thesis. A deep-seated political malaise in east-central Europe has led to disappointment and widespread questioning of the strength of the region’s democratic transition. Eastern Europe’s score in the Democracy Index deteriorated in 2015, and, since we created the index in 2006, the region’s trajectory overall has been one of regression. Meanwhile, in the developed West, a decline in political participation, weaknesses in the functioning of government, and curbs on civil liberties are having a corrosive effect on some long-established democracies.
The US and western Europe have suffered a decline in their average scores since the first edition of the Democracy Index. Voters are displaying worrying levels of anger, disappointment and political disengagement, to which traditional parties and politicians are struggling to respond.
Latin America’s score has stagnated since the Democracy Index was first published, illustrating the region’s deep-rooted problems pertaining to political culture, political participation, the functioning of government, crime and corruption. The region’s disappointing performance over the past decade illustrates the difficulties of extending and deepening the process of democratisation and of establishing full democracies. Popular frustration with the lack of political and institutional development has boiled over on several occasions in the region in recent years and, in 2015, erupted in protests against corruption.
MENA and SSA recorded very modest improvements in their regional average scores between 2006 and 2015, from very low bases. SSA has continued to make intermittent progress over the course of the past decade, but no region in the world has experienced more turbulence in recent years than MENA. It appeared conceivable for a time that the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010, might herald a period of political transformation analogous to that in eastern Europe in the 1990s. However, only Tunisia has consolidated any democratic gains, graduating into a “flawed democracy” in 2014. Egypt has reverted to authoritarian rule, while numerous countries in the region, notably Libya and Syria, have descended into bloody civil war.
Asia has been the most successful democratising region during the lifetime of our Democracy Index, registering the biggest improvement in average regional score of any region over the past decade. However, Asia is not immune to the problems assailing Western democracies, as the examples of Japan and South Korea illustrate; both fell into the “flawed democracies” category in 2015. More countries (17) registered a decline in their score or stagnated in 2015 compared with 2014 than registered an improvement (11).
Nations with a weak democratic tradition are, by default, vulnerable to setbacks. Many non- consolidated democracies are fragile and, in the post-2008 crisis years, socio-economic stress led to backsliding on democracy in many countries. The underlying shallowness of democratic cultures—as revealed by disturbingly low scores for many countries in our index for political participation and political culture—has come to the fore in recent years.
A crisis of public participation in democracy
One of the challenges democracy is facing today is declining public participation in politics. This has been one of the main themes of recent editions of the EIU’s annual Democracy Index. One of the most disturbing findings of our 2014 and 2015 reports is that popular dissatisfaction with and abstention from participation in democracy is most pronounced in the most developed democracies, in the US and in western Europe, which together account for 16 of the 20 countries classified by the Democracy Index as “full democracies”.
In the US and Europe, the alienation of electorates from mainstream political parties and political elites has become pronounced. From that perspective, the rise of populist parties in Europe and elsewhere, and their ability to involve and mobilise people, must surely be a positive development, in that they bring the demos—the people—back into the political arena. The Democracy Index attaches great importance to the argument put forward by the secretary-general of the Inter- Parliamentary Union, Martin Chungong (Cameroon), on the occasion of International Democracy Day, September 15th 2015, that “Public participation is the bedrock upon which democracy rests.”
The Democracy Index is based on five categories, one of which is political participation (the others are electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; and political culture).
Our index is based on the view that measures of democracy that reflect only the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not “thick” enough; That is, they do not encompass sufficiently or, in some cases, at all, the features that determine how substantive democracy is. In other measures, the elements of political participation is hardly taken into account or only in a formal way.
Why public participation matters
Democracy is more than the sum of its institutions.
A democratic political culture is also crucial to the legitimacy, smooth functioning and, ultimately, the sustainability of democracy. A culture of passivity, leading to an obedient and docile citizenry, is not consistent with the healthy functioning of democracy. Participation is als a necessary component: apathy and abstention are enemies of democracy. Even measures that focus predominantly on the processes of representative, liberal democracy include (albeit inadequately or insufficiently) some aspects of participation. In a democracy, government is only one element in a social fabric made up of many and varied institutions, political organisations, and associations.
In a democracy, citizens cannot be required to take part in the political process, and they are free to express their dissatisfaction by not participating (the Democracy Index penalises countries in which voting is compulsory). However, a healthy democracy requires the active, freely chosen participation of citizens in public life. Democracies flourish when citizens are willing to participate in public debate, elect representatives and join political parties.
Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy begins to wither and become the preserve of small, select groups. To recognise that people have been turned off voting because of disenchantment with democracy or politics is not the same thing as saying that politics no longer matters. Some present the contemporary rejection of politics as a form of radical protest. Yet, cynicism towards and rejection of political engagement has a long history as a highly conservative stance. Politics is too important to be left to a small elite.
The absent demos
Modern political leaders acknowledge the importance of public participation in democracy and agree that the legitimacy of government is founded on the consent of the public. However, they have also often regarded the public’s participation in democracy as a problem or even a threat. This was especially the case with the arrival of the masses in politics in the developed world in the early twentieth century. Ruling elites often seemed to be more concerned with containing the threat posed by the newly enfranchised working class electorate than in developing democratic ideas, practices and institutions. Political leaders have often lacked confidence in their ability to inspire citizens and, sometimes, this has led them to embrace anti- democratic sentiments, as was the case during the inter-war years of the twentieth century, when democracy itself was imperilled.
In response to the catastrophe of the second world war, democracy was restored, but, during the post-war period, little was done to develop the values of democracy and popular participation.
Democracy’s belief in the sovereignty of people as the universal principle of legitimacy has been given short shrift. Attitudes of political leaders towards ordinary people are often condescending and infused with suspicion—we have only to look at the antipathy of political elites in Brussels to the conduct of national referendums in recent years, or the general disdain shown for populist movements. The low esteem in which popular consent and participation are held is also evident in the trend away from parliamentary decision-making and towards technocratic interventions.
One of the central problems of political life today is the absence of clear values binding the political elite together, which could provide it with a narrative to engage with its citizens. In the early twentieth century, political leaders knew what values their nations stood for; today’s leaders are preoccupied with this problem, but seem unable to spell out the values that define their societies. This crisis of self-belief and values explains much about the conduct of political life in the Western world today; without such an ethos, it is difficult for political elites to inspire the public and encourage public participation in democracy.
Democracy Index 2006-15
|Bosnia & Hercegovina||4.83||4.78||5.02||5.11||5.24||5.32||5.70||5.78|
|Trinidad and Tobago||7.10||6.99||6.99||6.99||7.16||7.16||7.21||7.18|
|Papua New Guinea||6.03||6.03||6.36||6.32||6.32||6.54||6.54||6.54|
Problems of democracy and the rise of populism
The impact of the global economic and financial crisis of 2008 on political trends has been most marked in eastern, southern and western Europe. Opinion polls show that confidence in public institutions in western Europe—already low before 2008 in many countries—has declined further since the crisis. Less than one-fifth of west Europeans trust political parties, and only about one- third trust their governments and parliaments. Levels of public trust are exceptionally low in eastern Europe. Less than 10% of people in this sub-region trust political parties and less than one-fifth trust their governments and their parliaments. There has been a noticeable decline in media freedom since 2008.The reasons for this decline are complex and varied. Many governments felt vulnerable and threatened, and reacted by intensifying their efforts to control the media and impede free expression. Unemployment and job insecurity fostered a climate of fear and self-censorship among journalists in many countries. The concentration of media ownership has tended to increase, which has had a negative impact on the diversity of views and freedom of expression. In authoritarian regimes, which have become more fearful of the threat from below, state control and repression of any independent media is a given and has, if anything, tended to get worse, with an increasing number of attacks on independent journalists.
However, regressive trends in democracy in Europe had been evident for some time before the 2008 global economic crisis. Between 2006 and 2008, democracy stagnated in Europe; between 2008 and 2010, it regressed. In 2011 seven countries in western Europe suffered a decline in their democracy scores, largely due to the erosion of sovereignty and democratic accountability associated with the effects of and responses to the euro zone crisis (five of the countries that experienced a decline in their scores were members of the euro zone: Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland).
Most dramatically, in two countries (Greece and Italy) democratically elected leaders were replaced by technocrats. In 2012 no countries in western Europe registered a decline, but, a year later, seven countries again fell back, as harsh austerity and renewed recession tested the resilience of Europe’s political institutions. Western Europe’s overall score stagnated in 2014 and in 2015. Despite the stabilisation in the region’s average score, however, popular discontent expressed itself in rising support at the polls for populist and protest parties across the region.
As we predicted in our 2014 Democracy Index, and in a January 2015 special report, Democracy on the edge: Populism and protest, 2015 was a year when populist politicians and parties made their mark on the political landscape. Over the past year, populists of different hues have cut a swathe through the US and European political landscape, sending shockwaves through the political establishment.
These parties have moved into the space that has opened up between the old political parties and their traditional social bases. Resentment of governing elites, opposition to austerity and fear of immigration are key themes and rallying cries for the populists. Furthermore, Donald Trump in the US, Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are capitalising on a pervasive climate of insecurity in the wake of Islamist terrorist attacks in Western cities in 2015.
The defining feature of contemporary populism is that it articulates a deep-seated antagonism between the people and the political elite. Populism comes in many forms, but its basic premise, that the existing political establishment no longer represents the people, is the key to understanding its widespread appeal.
The factors that have propelled the populists to prominence, and to political power in countries such as Greece, cannot be reduced to narrow economic matters. Populism today represents a much broader moral, social and cultural challenge to the old established parties, one that offers an alternative to the political system that expresses the technocratic, metropolitan values of the political elites and that gives due consideration to the concerns, values and traditions that ordinary people hold dear.
The third element of populism is its attempt to mobilise and unite communities on the basis of the alternative policies it offers. This is something that all the populist movements have in common, regardless of their orientation to the right or left. They provide a rallying point for people who feel alienated from the political mainstream and yet want to be part of a political culture that recognises their concerns and aspirations. The importance of populism’s ability to mobilise people in a common cause should not be underestimated in an era characterised largely by abstention and disengagement from the democratic process.
The tendency to dismiss the upsurge of populism in Europe as a “protest vote” or anti-austerity “backlash” is a way of evading some uncomfortable truths. The assumption is that populism will fade away once conditions in Europe return to “normal”. It is certainly not seen as something that presents a real challenge to the established political system. This is to underestimate the seismic change that is occurring: the rise of the populists signals the end of the post-war political order.
The traditional parties of the left and right in Europe are at the tail-end of an identity crisis that began several decades ago. The erosion of the post-war political order began in the 1970s, as the post-war economic boom came to an end. It accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s, so that, by the turn of the century, the political system and the parties that represented it bore little relation to their forebears of the 1950s and 1960s. Parties of the left (social democratic, socialist, communist) and the right (Christian democratic, conservative, etc.)—which dominated the post-war body politic—have lost touch with their traditional supporters and, as a consequence, have lost votes and influence. There has been a long-term secular decline in membership of the mainstream political parties across Europe, on both sides of the political spectrum. As Peter Mair showed in Ruling the Void (2013), there has been a staggering fall in party-membership numbers across a range of major democracies. The rupturing of the relationship between Europe’s post-war political parties and their traditional support bases—especially, but not exclusively, the relationship between social democratic, labour and other left-wing parties and their working-class supporters—has paved the way for the rise of populist parties.
As these parties lost touch with their old supporters, they stopped seeing the public as the source of democratic legitimacy. Parties of left and right converged towards the centre. The emergence of technocratic, centrist parties, divorced from the electorate, has created a political chasm between the outlooks of elites and the public. Into the gap have stepped the populists, who appeal to alienated electorates—what Marine Le Pen has characterised as “the France of the Forgotten”. They have been able to connect with a public hankering for a sense of belonging, by focusing on issues of identity, culture and tradition. The populists present themselves as the champions of the people in their revolt against remote, out-of-touch, privileged political elites. Even if they do not provide a coherent alternative, therein lies their appeal.
The future of democracy: confidence is flagging
The increasingly anxious and fearful era in which we live is not conducive to defending democratic standards or extending democracy’s reach across the globe. In the course of 2015, murderous attacks by Islamist terrorists in African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, North African and US cities, and, most notably, those in Paris in January and November, succeeded in their aim of spreading fear of such attacks in the target countries and resulted in a greater readiness to tolerate curtailments of rights and freedoms. At the same time, a mass migration from MENA into Europe polarised political reactions and raised troubling questions about the exercising of democracy and national sovereignty in the face of supra-national crises affecting the region (see box on page 21). Looking back on 2015 and forward to 2016, Martin Schulz, the German president of the European Parliament, declared that “Nobody knows what we are facing this year. We are threatened as never before.” He added that the political fall-out from terrorist attacks and migration would test the EU to breaking point.
In our age of anxiety, the first casualty in the face of fears about terrorism or other threats is often freedom. In 2015, governments wanting to be seen to be acting in the face of the terrorist threat in Europe turned to draconian measures. They imposed states of emergency, locked down cities, closed borders and curbed freedom of movement; they sent more armed police onto the streets, chipped away at media freedoms and freedom of speech, and introduced harsh anti-terrorism legislation and summary justice for suspected extremists. All this was done in the cause of reassuring the public. By reacting in this way, governments have spread fear and panic, and have aided the extremists in their aim of terrorising society, eroding freedom and democracy in the process.
Democracy retains a near-universal appeal. Despite setbacks and overall stagnation, surveys show that most people in most places still want it. Trends such as globalisation, increasing education and expanding middle classes, tend to favour the organic development of democracy. However, after a disastrously unsuccessful attempt by the US to “export” democracy to the Middle East in the first decade of this century, coupled with a growing loss of self-confidence in Western values in recent decades, democracy’s proponents have become increasingly circumspect about the prospects of a further wave of democratisation.
We expect that political upheavals will present further challenges to authoritarian regimes in future. These may not all be successful and not all will necessarily take the form of mass popular uprisings. The outlook for democratic transition is, however, uncertain. There are historical examples of major reversals of democratisation. For example, a democratisation wave after the second world war ended with more than 20 countries sliding back to authoritarianism. A rollback on that scale has not occurred recently, but developments in the wake of the Arab Spring have provided a brutal reminder that the forces of reaction can triumph even in the face of a mass popular struggle for democratic change. Moreover, as the recent history of eastern Europe illustrates well, democratisation in hitherto authoritarian states does not, of course, mean a transition to fully fledged, consolidated democracies. Democracy means more than holding elections; it requires the development of a range of supportive institutions and attitudes. Such a transformation takes a long time.
Migration crisis strains Europe’s democracies
In 2015 Europe found itself facing an influx of refugees and migrants, primarily from war-torn regions of MENA, on a scale not seen since 1945. As the wave of migration increasingly took on the characteristics of a humanitarian crisis, the EU’s leaders struggled to respond adequately, with the issues of burden sharing, border control and national sovereignty prompting acrimonious divisions. At a summit in late September, a quota system was proposed to distribute 120,000 refugees from front-line states across the EU—a mere fraction of the total that had arrived—and was passed using a qualified majority voting system, despite four countries in central Europe voting against key provisions (two have since issued legal challenges against the decision). The plan has proved hard to implement, however. The European Commission admitted that, by end-2015, only 272 refugees had been redistributed, and only three of 11 planned “hotspots” to process asylum applications in frontline countries were operational.
Not only have many countries been reluctant to accommodate large numbers of refugees from very different cultures, in line with often negative public opinion, but the refugees themselves have largely proved unwilling to be sent to countries they are unfamiliar with, preferring either Germany or Sweden. Over the summer, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, adopted an open-armed response based on moral imperative, but has since been forced to row back from this position, given the sheer scale of arrivals, and the accompanying logistical problems and rising public concerns.
Border controls in Sweden, meanwhile, were reinstated at the start of November as the influx of refugees—at around 10,000 per week—became unmanageable.
The terrorist attacks on Paris on November 13th, which left 130 people dead, have led to a new nexus of concerns around migration and security.
The discovery that at least one of the attackers had entered Europe posing as an asylum-seeker led to an immediate step-up in security processes and border controls in the notionally border-free Schengen Area. It is a tacit assumption of the European “project” that the borders of nation-states should have steadily diminishing significance. However, in 2015, the risks inherent in such a perspective came into stark relief, and the sustainability of European integration is now in question.
The fabric of European integration is fraying
It is difficult to envisage the EU’s framing a response to the migrant crisis that is both sufficient and sustainable. The situation is more likely to last decades than years, and the scale of the inflows is set to increase. This reflects both the push factor of prolonged instability in the Middle East and the pull factor of refugees’—including the millions currently living in camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan—seeing the EU’s reluctantly acknowledging that it will need to absorb much greater numbers. National political dynamics in a number of EU states militate against many of the bloc’s leaders making internationally generous moves in the interests of European cohesion. After years of grinding financial crisis, many voters are tired, insecure and disaffected with their political elites, a fact that has already led to a steady—and sometimes sharp—rise in the popularity of non-centrist parties across the continent. The growing electoral traction being enjoyed by many anti-establishment parties opposed to immigration is one of the key drivers of the increasingly unwelcoming stance now being taken by national governments.
The migration crisis is only the latest in a growing list of forces pushing the EU in the direction of a looser and less uniform set of relations between its member states. The euro zone crisis is the most obvious other such force. There are strong similarities between the two crises: in both cases, technocratic arguments for much greater pooling of sovereignty have bumped up against strong public resistance in some member states. However, whereas the fiscal issues that have dominated the euro zone crisis are largely instrumental, relating to what political entities do, borders are essential— they define political entities and the people who belong to them. In contrast to the creative bending of EU rules seen in those countries battling fiscal meltdown during the euro crisis, therefore, states affected by the border-control crisis have broken the rules directly, reinstating their national borders openly and unapologetically.
Given that democratic legitimacy remains firmly rooted at national, rather than European level, political logic suggests that Europe’s crises will not be resolved by a collective decision to integrate more rapidly or more comprehensively. As regards the migration crisis, the policy line of last resort will remain the re-imposition of national border controls, either in an ad hoc manner, as at present, or with a more formal agreement to roll back aspects of the Schengen Agreement.
We therefore expect a gradual drift towards a less unified arrangement within the EU, in which national opt-outs play an increased role, and like-minded states push ahead with integration only in areas where pre-existing political convergence avoids the need for contentious compromise. The EU is drifting away from the ideal, set down in its treaties, of “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.
Russia and the CIS
2015 was another dark year for democracy across much of the post-Soviet space. The authoritarian turn in Russia that followed Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency has intensified as a result of the stand-off with the West over Ukraine. The year opened with the murder, within sight of the Kremlin, of Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition figure and former deputy prime minister. The regime remains preoccupied with the threat of externally sponsored social unrest and has sought to restrict all potential channels of foreign influence. In 2015 new restrictions on ownership led to the departure of some foreign media companies. A law on “undesirable organisations”, which comes on top of earlier restrictions on foreign funding for civil society, led to the blacklisting of a number of prominent international NGOs. The Russian government’s approach to the regional elections in September 2015, for which extra-parliamentary parties were in many cases prevented from registering candidates, suggests that the Kremlin has abandoned its experiment of allowing limited competition in the electoral process. The 2016 parliamentary elections could, nevertheless, prove challenging. Claims of large-scale falsification in previous parliamentary elections triggered the largest popular protests in over a decade in the winter of 2011-12. A repeat of this in 2016 appears unlikely, but the harsh economic downturn and tight public finances will give regional and national leaders cause for concern.
In a sign that Russian elites continue to set the agenda for their post-soviet colleagues, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan also adopted new legislation restricting the operations of foreign NGOs in 2015, while the Kyrgyz parliament debated a bill that borrows heavily from Russia’s “foreign agents” law of 2012. Azeri officials have joined Russia in publicly warning of the threat posed by “national traitors” and the US-led democracy-promotion agenda. The Azerbaijani government has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent, imprisoning journalists and human-rights activists over the past year.
Constitutional reform was a significant issue for both Ukraine and Armenia in 2015. In Ukraine, reforms to decentralise power have stalled, as the government remains uncertain whether it can command a two-thirds constitutional majority. The reforms are one of the terms of the ceasefire agreement signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in February, in an effort to end the fighting in the Donbas region. Ukraine’s political system is highly centralised, and the Vienna Commission has given its approval to the constitutional changes. However, any reforms that appear to grant special status to separatist-controlled territories are highly controversial. The first reading of the bill, which passed, but did not achieve a constitutional majority, led to violent protests outside the Verkhovna Rada. The future of the bill remains in the balance.
Political tensions rose significantly in both Georgia and Moldova in 2015, exacerbated by the polarised geopolitical environment. In Moldova, a major banking crisis exposed the corruption and dysfunction of the political establishment, further threatening hopes for EU integration. In Armenia, the government succeeded in pushing through a referendum on constitutional reforms that will transform the country into a parliamentary democracy. Despite rising anti-government sentiment, which led to significant protests against rising electricity prices over the summer, the opposition failed to mobilise a strong movement against the bill. The constitutional reform has been seen by many as a mechanism for Serzh Sargsyan, the current president, to maintain his hold on power when his second and (under current legislation) final presidential term ends in 2018. However, in the longer term, a shift to a parliamentary republic could inject greater pluralism into the political system.
Indeed, the one parliamentary republic in Central Asia continued to buck the regional trend with flawed, but competitive, parliamentary elections in October 2015. While the process was marred by concerns over the abuse of administrative resources, and a new biometric-registration system that may have excluded some voters, it nevertheless offered a genuine electoral competition.
Kyrgyzstan’s pluralistic political system stands in stark contrast to those of its Central Asian neighbours, which remain dominated by authoritarian strongmen. Leaders in these countries may imitate the democratic process, but there is no true political competition. Faced with a serious economic downturn in 2015, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, decided to call an early election in April to renew his mandate before embarking on difficult economic reforms and a currency devaluation. It appears that even leaders such as Mr Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since the late Soviet period, understand the power, if not the point, of the ballot box.
The consolidation of democracy in Latin America continues to be impeded by the region’s inability to match the extraordinary advances in electoral democracy made in previous decades with corresponding improvements in its political effectiveness and political culture. This, in turn, has fomented popular dissatisfaction, particularly in those countries where major corruption scandals have recently come to light. By far the most publicised cases in 2015 were in Brazil, where the president, Dilma Rousseff, faces a threat of impeachment, and in Guatemala, where the president, Otto Pérez Molina, resigned and was subsequently arrested (see box). Even Chile—one of the top-ranked Latin American countries in the Democracy Index—faced protests over a scandal involving the son of the president, Michelle Bachelet. In Mexico, popular dissatisfaction was related to the political fall-out from two cases that emerged in late 2014: the “Casa Blanca” corruption allegations involving the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his wife, and the Ayotzinapa case involving the disappearance and assumed death of a group of students in late 2014.
One of the striking features of this wave of popular discontent is that it has been increasingly focused not just on the government, but also on the political establishment as a whole. This reflects a dangerously cynical view that governments can no longer be effectively punished at the ballot boxes, since corruption and mismanagement are so widespread that all major parties are assumed to be, to some extent, complicit. This calls into question the benefits of well-functioning electoral institutions (the region scores highest in this category in the index), and also opens the door to anti- establishment populists from both sides of the political spectrum—Jimmy Morales’s victory in the October 2015 Guatemala presidential election being a case in point. The region’s previous generation of populists, moreover, has experienced troubles of its own. The Kirchner era in Argentina came to an end with the victory of a conservative, Mauricio Macri, in the November 2015 presidential run- off, while, in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s grip on power slipped after the landmark victory of the opposition in the December 2015 legislative elections.
A final, but no less important, driver of discontent has been the region’s sluggish economic performance. In 2015 the region as a whole failed to grow for the first time since the 2008/09 global economic and financial crisis. There were economic slowdowns in most key economies and outright recession in the region’s largest, Brazil (which we expect to last for a further year). Latin Americans in the past have often tolerated lower levels of democracy in exchange for economic progress. Where this trade-off is no longer possible, public attitudes towards political leaders will be increasingly hostile.
The average regional score for Latin America remained largely unchanged in 2015 compared with 2014, and the region’s best and worst performers remained in the same positions. However, a modest deterioration in the score for Costa Rica resulted in its demotion to a “flawed democracy”, leaving Uruguay as the region’s sole “full democracy”. Five out of the six countries that rose in the rankings came from Central America and the Caribbean (the exception being Argentina), while only three countries—Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico—slipped down the rankings.
More positively, the relative stability of the region’s rankings is indicative of a low level of major conflicts or crises compared with other parts of the world. Indeed, the resignation of Guatemala’s president was handled in an exemplary fashion and served to strengthen, rather than weaken, democracy in that country. However, the lack of major advances to improve political effectiveness and to address the main source of popular discontent—corruption—also shows how difficult it will be to entrench democracy in Latin America beyond the electoral sphere.
Anti-corruption backlash grows in Latin America
After decades of calls to address endemic corruption in Latin America, a spate of scandals led to unprecedented investigations and arrests at the highest levels of government and business in 2015. These events underscore growing popular disgust with corruption and the traditional political elite.
If such scandals result in more action being taken to address the problem, this would be positive for democracy and democratic institutions. However, there are big obstacles to progress in the near term.
No case is perhaps as astonishing as that of Brazil, where the political landscape has been shaken by a scandal dubbed Petrolão, which pertains to several billions of dollars in bribes paid by major contractors to former directors of Petrobras and politicians from the ruling coalition. The Petrolão case has sent high-level members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) to jail, and has led to the arrest of congressmen and businesspeople, such as the CEO of BTG Pactual, one of Brazil’s largest financial institutions. Most seriously, in December 2015, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, himself implicated in a bribery scandal, launched formal impeachment proceedings against the president, Dilma Rousseff, on the grounds that she had breached Brazil’s fiscal-responsibility law. Ms Rousseff’s mandate is also tainted by the fact that she was in charge of Petrobras when the alleged bribery took place.
Presidents hit around the region
In Guatemala, the president, Otto Pérez Molina, was forced to step down in September 2015 and was subsequently arrested, following probes into corruption spearheaded by an independent UN- supported agency, the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG, International commission against Impunity in Guatemala). The president was implicated in a large customs fraud scheme, whereby government officials exchanged discounted tariffs for bribes.
Similarly, the former president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores Pérez (1999-2004), was ordered in December 2015 to stand trial over accusations that he diverted US$15m in donations to earthquake victims to his personal and political- party accounts. In Paraguay, the attorney-general moved to investigate the former president, Federico Franco Gómez (2012-13), on allegations of illicit enrichment and money-laundering.
Corruption in Mexico was given renewed attention following the revelation of a conflict-of- interests scandal involving Angélica Rivera, the wife of Mr Peña, in November 2014. The president responded by reviving a defunct cabinet ministry, the Ministry of Public Administration, and approving an Anti-Corruption System in early 2015. The new measures have been criticised for being too weak to have a material impact.
Scandals have electoral repercussions
Even in Chile—long considered to be one of the least corrupt countries in the region—the issue of public misconduct came to the fore with the eruption in early 2015 of a scandal involving a bank loan to the daughter-in-law of Ms Bachelet, and suggestions of influence-peddling by the president’s son. Also, a campaign-finance and tax-fraud scandal involving prominent Chilean corporations and members of the centre-right opposition led to the filing of criminal charges against politicians and businesspeople.
Ms Bachelet then proposed several legislative bills designed to ensure transparency in campaign financing and prevent influence peddling. However, the loss of popular confidence in the traditional political parties may give impetus to independent candidates in the congressional and presidential elections in 2017.
In Peru, the government of the president, Ollanta Humala, has faced a series of scandals, capped by the “Centralita” case involving political espionage and money-laundering by a regional government and a businessman with ties to the president and the first lady, Nadine Heredia. The scandal has caused the popularity of Mr Humala and Ms Heredia to plummet, all but ensuring that the ruling party will not retain power in the April 2016 election.
In Venezuela, official corruption has become extensive in recent years, and is related to the strong centralised control of the economy and the main oil industry by the former administration of Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. However, probes are being spearheaded almost exclusively from abroad, notably by the US Treasury Department. Nonetheless, perceptions of widespread corruption amid an economic crisis probably contributed to the majority victory by the opposition in the December 6th legislative elections.
Defining and measuring democracy
There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and there is a lively debate on the subject. The issue is not only of academic interest. For example, although democracy-promotion is high on the list of US foreign-policy priorities, there is no consensus within the US government as to what constitutes a democracy. As one observer recently put it, “The world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined—and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit,” (Horowitz, 2006, p 114).
Although the terms “freedom” and “democracy” are often used interchangeably, the two are not synonymous. Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise, and thereby, ultimately, protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights. Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises as to whether reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. As discussed below, there is a question as to how far the definition may need to be widened.
Some insist that democracy is, necessarily, a dichotomous concept: a state is either democratic or not. But most measures now appear to adhere to a continuous concept, with the possibility of varying degrees of democracy. At present, the best-known measure is produced by the US-based Freedom House organisation. The average of its indexes, on a 1 to 7 scale, of political freedom (based on 10 indicators) and of civil liberties (based on 15 indicators) is often taken to be a measure of democracy.
The Freedom House measure is available for all countries, and stretches back to the early 1970s.
It has been used heavily in empirical investigations of the relationship between democracy and various economic and social variables. The so-called Polity Project provides, for a smaller number of countries, measures of democracy and regime types, based on rather minimalist definitions, stretching back to the 19th century. These have also been used in empirical work.
Freedom House also measures a narrower concept, that of “electoral democracy”. Democracies in this minimal sense share at least one common, essential characteristic. Positions of political power are filled through regular, free and fair elections between competing parties, and it is possible for an incumbent government to be turned out of office through elections. Freedom House’s criteria for an electoral democracy include:
- A competitive, multi-party political
- Universal adult
- Regularly contested elections conducted on the basis of secret ballots, reasonable ballot security and the absence of massive voter fraud.
- Significant public access of major political parties to the electorate through the media and through generally open political campaigning.
The Freedom House definition of political freedom is more demanding (although not much) than its criteria for electoral democracy—that is, it classifies more countries as electoral democracies than as “free” (some “partly free” countries are also categorised as “electoral democracies”). At the end of 2007, 121 out of 193 states were classified as “electoral democracies”; of these, on a more stringent criterion, 90 states were classified as “free”. The Freedom House political-freedom measure covers the electoral process and political pluralism and, to a lesser extent, the functioning of government and a few aspects of participation.
A key difference in measures is between “thin”, or minimalist, and “thick”, or wider, concepts of democracy (Coppedge, 2005). The thin concepts correspond closely to an immensely influential academic definition of democracy, that of Dahl’s concept of polyarchy (Dahl, 1970). Polyarchy has eight components, or institutional requirements: almost all adult citizens have the right to vote; almost all adult citizens are eligible for public office; political leaders have the right to compete for votes; elections are free and fair; all citizens are free to form and join political parties and other organisations; all citizens are free to express themselves on all political issues; diverse sources of information about politics exist and are protected by law; and government policies depend on votes and other expressions of preference.
The Freedom House electoral democracy measure is a thin concept. Its measure of democracy based on political rights and civil liberties is “thicker” than the measure of “electoral democracy”. Other definitions of democracy have broadened to include aspects of society and political culture in democratic societies.
The Economist Intelligence Unit measure
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index is based on the view that measures of democracy that reflect the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not thick enough. They do not encompass sufficiently, or, in some cases, at all, the features that determine how substantive democracy is.
Freedom is an essential component of democracy, but not, in itself, sufficient. In existing measures, the elements of political participation and functioning of government are taken into account only in a marginal and formal way.
Our Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are inter- related and form a coherent conceptual whole. The condition of holding free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the sine qua non of all definitions.
All modern definitions, except the most minimalist, also consider civil liberties to be a vital component of what is often called “liberal democracy”. The principle of the protection of basic human rights is widely accepted. It is embodied in constitutions throughout the world, as well as in the UN Charter and international agreements such as the Helsinki Final Act (the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe). Basic human rights include freedom of speech, expression and of the press; freedom of religion; freedom of assembly and association; and the right to due judicial process. All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But, rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic. In a democracy, majority rule must be combined with guarantees of individual human rights and the rights of minorities. Most measures also include aspects of the minimum quality of functioning of government. If democratically based decisions cannot or are not implemented, then the concept of democracy is not very meaningful.
Democracy is more than the sum of its institutions. A democratic political culture is also crucial for the legitimacy, smooth functioning and, ultimately, the sustainability of democracy. A culture of passivity and apathy—an obedient and docile citizenry—is not consistent with democracy. The electoral process periodically divides the population into winners and losers. A successful democratic political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power.
Participation is also a necessary component, as apathy and abstention are enemies of democracy.
Even measures that focus predominantly on the processes of representative, liberal democracy include (albeit inadequately or insufficiently) some aspects of participation. In a democracy, government is only one element in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political organisations, and associations. Citizens cannot be required to take part in the political process, and they are free to express their dissatisfaction by not participating. However, a healthy democracy requires the active, freely chosen participation of citizens in public life. Democracies flourish when citizens are willing to participate in public debate, elect representatives and join political parties.
Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy begins to wither and become the preserve of small, select groups.
At the same time, even our thicker, more inclusive and wider measure of democracy does not include other aspects—which some authors argue are also crucial components of democracy—such as levels of economic and social wellbeing. Therefore, our Index respects the dominant tradition that holds that a variety of social and economic outcomes can be consistent with political democracy, which is a separate concept.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators, grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall Index is the simple average of the five category indexes.
The category indexes are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0 to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries do not score a 1 in the following critical areas for democracy:
- Whether national elections are free and
- The security of
- The influence of foreign powers on
- The capability of the civil service to implement
If the scores for the first three questions are 0 (or 0.5), one point (0.5 point) is deducted from the index in the relevant category (either the electoral process and pluralism or the functioning of government). If the score for 4 is 0, one point is deducted from the functioning of government category index.
The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regime:
- Full democracies: scores of 8-10
- Flawed democracies: score of 6 to 9
- Hybrid regimes: scores of 4 to 9
- Authoritarian regimes: scores below 4
Threshold points for regime types depend on overall scores that are rounded to one decimal point.
Full democracies: Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.
Flawed democracies: These countries also have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.
Hybrid regimes: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.
Authoritarian regimes: In these states, state political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed. Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may exist, but these have little substance. Elections, if they do occur, are not free and fair. There is disregard for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Media are typically state-owned or controlled by groups connected to the ruling regime. There is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive censorship. There is no independent judiciary.
The scoring system
We use a combination of a dichotomous and a three-point scoring system for the 60 indicators. A dichotomous 1-0 scoring system (1 for a yes and 0 for a no answer) is not without problems, but it has several distinct advantages over more refined scoring scales (such as the often-used 1-5 or 1-7). For many indicators, the possibility of a 0.5 score is introduced, to capture “grey areas”, where a simple yes (1) or no (0) is problematic, with guidelines as to when that should be used. Consequently, for many indicators there is a three-point scoring system, which represents a compromise between simple dichotomous scoring and the use of finer scales.
The problems of 1-5 or 1-7 scoring scales are numerous. For most indicators under such systems, it is extremely difficult to define meaningful and comparable criteria or guidelines for each score. This can lead to arbitrary, spurious and non-comparable scorings. For example, a score of 2 for one country may be scored a 3 in another, and so on. Alternatively, one expert might score an indicator for a particular country in a different way to another expert. This contravenes a basic principle of measurement, that of so-called reliability—the degree to which a measurement procedure produces the same measurements every time, regardless of who is performing it. Two- and three-point systems do not guarantee reliability, but make it more likely.
Second, comparability between indicator scores and aggregation into a multi-dimensional index appears more valid with a two or three-point scale for each indicator (the dimensions being aggregated are similar across indicators). By contrast, with a 1-5 system, the scores are more likely to mean different things across the indicators (for example a 2 for one indicator may be more comparable to a 3 or 4 for another indicator). The problems of a 1-5 or 1-7 system are magnified when attempting to extend the index to many regions and countries.
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