The EU Remains the Best Advocate for Global Democracy

Russian president Vladimir Putin enjoys running circles around the European Union (EU). China may cherry-pick partners among EU members. Turkey can destabilize the region by releasing migrants. Even Belarus challenges the EU in a way unthinkable only a few years ago. Events may yet take a turn for the worse in the Caucasus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Ukraine with rumors of military action launched by Russia.

Europe’s lack of hard power may be laid bare in the months to come. Europe is not projecting military power, not invading other countries, not threatening neighbors, not waging cyber warfare, and not operating a global intelligence network. It is also not using its considerable economic power to pursue political goals.

These weaknesses, in a strange way, also reveal Europe’s sole strength.

Europe is gradually becoming the last genuine defender of democracy and human rights. A few countries outside of Europe may also claim this title, but they are far between. Europe is not flawless, but compared to illiberal democracies, autocratic or authoritarian regimes, it remains a beacon.

The EU is often depicted as an undemocratic bureaucracy run by technocrats in Brussels. This is incorrect. No decision is taken by the EU without approval in the European Council. Each member state is represented by a minister sent by their national government and held accountable by their national parliament. Most decisions require the consent of both the Council and the European Parliament, which is composed of 705 members elected directly by the European people. This relationship between the Council and the Parliament is somewhat akin to that of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the United States, but less confrontational. The European Commission, the executive institution of the EU, consists of one member nominated by each member state. The Commission can only take office after a vote of approval in the directly elected European Parliament. The Parliament also has the ability to dismiss and dissolve the European Commission.

Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe are not role models of democracy. But this critique is overblown. Observers outside Central and Eastern Europe…