Promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries

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Promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries


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Human rights > Human rights in non-EU countries

Promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 8 May 2001 – the European Union’s role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries [COM(2001) 252 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Protecting human rights, promoting pluralist democracy and consolidating the rule of law are not only among the fundamental objectives of the European Union (EU), but are also important principles for its external relations. Respect for these principles is required of countries which apply for EU membership (Article 49 of the EU Treaty) and promoting them is included in all forms of cooperation with third countries, including development cooperation (Article 181a of the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC)). Moreover, the Charter of Fundamental Rights directs both the internal and the external action of the EU as regards human rights, which makes it possible to increase their consistency.

At the international level, the EU plays an important role in promoting human rights and democracy through several instruments of a diplomatic nature, of a commercial nature, of financial cooperation and of development aid. This communication proposes a new global strategy which manages all of these instruments, while focusing in particular on the role of Community external aid in promoting these values. Moreover, a new framework for implementing Community development policy was launched in 2000, with the adoption of the declaration on this policy (replaced, in 2006, by the “consensus for development”) and the reform of external aid management. The new strategy therefore aims to incorporate foreign policy regarding human rights and democratisation within this new framework.

A more coherent approach

Human rights and democratisation make up a broad theme that covers several areas of activity, such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), financial cooperation, trade and immigration. It is therefore important to coordinate the EC’s efforts with those of the EU and Member States in order to achieve synergy effects and ensure a coherent policy.

The European Parliament (EP) attaches considerable importance to this area, which is reflected in its support for the development of democratic parliamentary institutions in third countries and in its work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Its cooperation with the Commission is already very advanced in the field of electoral assistance and observation. However, there is a need for expanding the exchanges of views and cooperation between these two institutions in planning external aid.

The Commission plays an important role in coordinating policies and programmes on human rights, in particular through its delegations, which must ensure an exchange of information between the EC and the Member States. In particular, the Commission has to ensure that all policies take account of the aspects covered by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This involves in particular the fields of justice and home affairs, social policy and the environment. With regard to trade and investment, the Commission is working closely with the EP and social partners in order to guarantee sustainable and fair socio-economic development in third countries.

Integration of human rights in dialogue and cooperation

In order to incorporate respect for human rights and democracy into the definition of all the EU’s external policies, these principles must be included in the dialogue with partner countries as well as in Community aid programmes.

In the dialogue with third countries, it is important to have a constructive and positive partnership with their governments. This approach has been based on the inclusion, since 1992, of the clause on ‘essential elements’ in all agreements signed with third countries. On the basis of this clause, respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitutes an ‘essential element’ of the agreement. The aim of the clause is to support democracy and human rights in these countries, to promote accession to and ratification and implementation of international human rights instruments, and to prevent crises through the establishment of a consistent and long-term relationship.

Moreover, this dialogue must not be limited to the public authorities, but should also include civil society and NGOs, both in the field and in Brussels.

With regard to Community aid programmes, the promotion of human rights and democratisation is one of the areas of cooperation provided for by programmes such as Phare, Tacis and MEDA for the period 2000-06 (replaced, from 2007-13, by instruments of pre-accession assistance, of development cooperation financing, and of neighbourhood and partnership). The Cotonou Agreement, concluded with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, went even further, basing the allocation of a part of the European Development Fund (governance initiative) on the beneficiary countries’ commitment to institutional reforms in several governance-related fields, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

On the other hand, humanitarian aid is not related to the beneficiary country’s respect for human rights, since it aims to relieve human suffering solely according to the victims’ needs. Nevertheless, the aid provided must not aggravate the situation in the beneficiary country, and it is therefore essential to consider to what extent humanitarian projects will affect the human rights situation in these countries.

A more strategic approach for the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)

The EIDHR (replaced by the financial instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights in the world for the period 2007-13) supports initiatives in the field of democracy and human rights in partnership with NGOs and international organisations, bringing added value to Community programmes and to the CFSP. The development of EIDHR strategies must be based on thematic priorities and target countries, and must provide the budgetary flexibility necessary for meeting urgent and unforeseen needs. This makes it possible to guarantee a long-term approach that enhances the EIDHR’s impact.

Moreover, it is also important to improve the effectiveness of cooperation with the other actors on the international stage, such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in particular on the basis of the comparative advantage of these organisations and of the EIDHR’s priorities.

A European Human Rights Agency?

The European Council’s conclusions of June 1999 suggested examining the possibility of creating a European Human Rights Agency. This communication concludes that such an agency is not necessary. The first model, for a reporting and advisory agency, has been abandoned following the finding that the EU already has sufficient sources of information and advice. The second model, which involves the externalisation of implementation, is considered to be incompatible with the EIDHR’s essential purpose as a complement to the main assistance programmes.

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