Corruption, political instability and intolerance: Europe’s decade of decline

DEMOS - Democracy in Europe. Backsliders  - Swoboda & Democracy
  • Demos produces the first ever Index to measure democracy specific to EU
  • Wide-reaching analysis reveals Europe’s most and least democratic countries
  • Report comes a few days after also European Commission Chief José Manuel Barroso has finally called for new powers to tackle ‘backsliding’ on democratic duties across Europe


A Demos report, published with the support of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, reveals that many European Union Member States are suffering a sharp decline of democracy, with some countries struggling to uphold the principles that once gained them entry, according to a comprehensive new study.

Fears about Hungary and Greece are confirmed by the new analysis, which shows they are the most significant democratic backsliders, with Hungary in the bottom quartile for all measures of democracy.
Northern European states continue to perform best, with Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden showing superior signs of public trust and democratic institutions.  However, the Index also finds that Eastern European countries like Slovenia, Poland, Estonia and Czech Republic have built stronger democracies over past ten years. 

The Backsliders report also found:

  • Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania were the worst performers with consistently low scores across all five democratic categories.
  • Western European countries were not free from blame, with France criticised for controversial policies on religious freedom, while Italy continues to face problems with corruption, organised crime and media ownership.
  • Europe has become less tolerant towards minority groups in last 15 years, with attitudes towards Muslims hardening most substantially in the 2000s.
  • Researchers found Greece overwhelmed by high unemployment, social unrest, endemic corruption and a severe disillusionment with the political establishment.
  • The UK is in the top 10 of only one category, tolerance of minorities, while performing particularly poorly (21st of 26) for social capital and satisfaction with democracy.

Commission as Democracy Watchdog

The findings lead Demos to call for the European Commission to produce an annual report that focuses on the overall development of democracy in the EU, as well as distinguishing between significant and smaller transgressions and prioritising the Commission’s resources on addressing the former.

These echo the recent comments of the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who finally announced in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg that the commission should be given new punitive powers to police democratic rights across the European Union, acting as ‘an independent and objective referee’.

Head of the Citizenship Programme at Demos, Jonathan Birdwell, who authored the report, said:

“These findings highlight problems many EU member states are experiencing on vital issues of democracy, justice and citizenship. Barroso’s intervention is an important development, but a lot more needs to be done if the EU is going to fulfil its role as a ‘democracy watchdog’.

“Our index shows that there is not enough data currently available to rigorously and objectively evaluate whether democratic principles are being upheld. The European Commission needs first to understand the true scale of the problems in individual countries before they can start addressing them.”

Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said:

"Democracy is the non-negotiable foundation of the European Union. But no country must rest on its laurels in this regard. We see worrying developments in a range of countries, and most notably in some of the EU's youngest members.

"It is the duty of European institutions to ensure that democracy, fundamental rights and civil liberties are respected without exemptions. To this end, the European Commission must monitor the state of democracy and civil liberties in Europe - according to objective criteria - through the creation of a comprehensive justice scoreboard."

Sylvie Guillaume, Socialist and Democrats vice-president responsible for civil liberties and constitutional affairs, said:

"I congratulate the authors of this study that has the merit of raising the poor state in which our European democracies lie. It is unfortunate that the efforts made by the European authorities still focus primarily on the economic and financial ‘patient’, while too few doctors are looking at another one named 'democracy'.

"Therefore we now call Europe to quickly develop appropriate instruments, conducted by independent bodies, to prevent the abuses we have been witnessing during the last few years and the threats put on our values, in a Europe still largely dominated by the Conservatives".

Notes to Editors

The report, Backsliders was co-authored by Jonathan Birdwell, Sebastien Feve, Chris Tryhorn, Natalia Vibla and is published by Demos on Thursday 26 September 2013.

It was published with the support of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament.

More information on the analysis and an embargoed copy of the report is available on request. (Also attached below)

For further interview or comment with the author, please contact Rob Macpherson (media contact):

Rob Macpherson – Demos
020 7367 6325
(out of hours: 07809 280 643)

Related documents 
DEMOS - Democracy in Europe. Backsliders - Full Report
DEMOS - Democracy in Europe. Backsliders - Executive Summary