Wednesday, 20.11.2024 - Brussels

Brussels Democracy Dialogue 2024: How to transition to sustainable democracies?

On 20 November 2024, we will organise the first Brussels Democracy Dialogue. Just like the Hambach Democracy Dialogue (HDD), the Brussels Democracy Dialogue is a platform to exchange progressive ideas and proposals for further developing European democracies.

In response to the rise of leaders with autocratic tendencies in advanced democracies, creeping autocratisation in many democracies previously considered consolidated, and faltering democratisation processes in South-eastern and Eastern Europe, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung EU Office Brussels and FES Democracy of the Future Office Vienna are organising the first Brussels Democracy Dialogue on 20 November 2024. Just like Hambach Democracy Dialogue (HDD),  this expert conference is a platform to exchange progressive ideas and proposals for further developing European democracies.

Focussing on the topic of successful democratisation processes, the first Brussels Democracy Dialogue will address how transitions to sustainable democracies can succeed. At the onset of the third way of democratisation, social-science research has identified four key factors from which the success of democratisation was supposed to depend:

  1. socio-economic aspects that favour the development and stability of democracy (e.g. a prosperous economy, a low level of inequality);
  2. the existence of a liberal and democratic tradition (e.g. pre-authoritarian social movements, organised interests, and a democratic-parliamentary culture) that facilitates the entrenchment of liberal and democratic values in the society;
  3. a political elite that is committed to democratic norms and principles;
  4. strong international democracy supporters that make the external costs of authoritarianism high.

Together with politicians, experts in democracy, and representatives of civil society, we will re-assess the validity of these factors that have been regarded as essential for the transition to democracy and its survival. In four panels, we will 1) rethink the relationship between democracy and the economy, we will ask 2) why liberal and democratic values did not take deep roots everywhere, we will analyse 3) the role of political actors in subverting and defending democracy, and we will discuss 4) the role of international organisations in supporting democracy in times of de-democratisation.

With: Martin Schulz (President of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung), Sabine Fandrych (Secretary General of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung), Jan Teorell (Stockholm University and Founder of V-Dem),  Philip Gorski (Yale University), Susan Stokes (Center on Democracy, University of Chicago), Giovanni Capoccia (Oxford University), Andreas Schedler (Democracy Institute, Central European University), Sarah Bush (University of Pennsylvania), Maya Tudor (Oxford University), Ivan Krastev (Institute for Human Sciences), and many more.


Please note that this is an expert conference, which can be joined only via a personal invitation. If you want to participate, please contact Marco Schwarz, our Policy Officer  Democracy & Rule of Law, via e-mail: Marco.Schwarz(at)


Conference Opening (09:00)

by Martin Schulz, President of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Session 1: The role of political actors in subverting and defending democracy (09:30-11:00)

In many countries, we have recently seen how authoritarian-minded politicians have undermined democratic principles and eroded the established norms of political discourse and the foundations of democratic institutions. They have increased insecurities in the societies, which in turn facilitated their assaults on democracy. How should democratically-minded political actors react to such a behaviour? Should they use polarising or de-polarising discourses? Should they fight within or outside the institutions? What are skilful and creative ways to successfully defend and safeguard democracy?

Session 2: Why did liberal and democratic values not take deep roots everywhere? (11:30-13:00)

The role of citizens in defending democracy is essential. In recent years, however, many citizens have been seduced by the illiberal project that opposes pluralism and minority rights and emphasises ethnic nationalism, which proved to be the gateway for authoritarianism. Why are parts of our societies receptive to illiberal and undemocratic values? How can national governments and the European Union use innovative ways that increase citizens’ willingness to defend democracy? Should progressive forces be bolder when defending the civic values and diversity?

Session 3: Rethinking the relationship between democracy and the economy (14:00-15:30)

Solid economic performance, coupled with a low level of socio-economic inequalities, is considered as pivotal in stabilising democracy and making it resilient. Yet in spite of solid economic output in some European countries (for example, Poland) voters decided to elect leaders that subverted democracy. On the other hand, in some other countries marked by deep economic crisis (e.g. Greece or Portugal) democracy proved to be more resilient. So, what role plays democracy’s socio-economic output for the survival of a democracy? When talking about the effect of economy on democracy’s sustainability, should we go beyond the GDP and the level of inequality and include other aspects as well?

Session 4: How to support democracy in times of de-democratisation? The role of international organisations (16:00-17:30)

The fall of communism led to a brief period of Western liberal hegemony, during which many Western actors strongly supported democracy. In recent years, however, the influence of Western liberal democracies has been waning amid the rise of authoritarian actors such as China and Russia. How does this shift in the balance of power influence the work of external actors? The new FES study on the role of international organisations that support democracy will serve as a basis for the discussion. The study investigated how pro-democratic external actors, such as the FES and other pro-democracy NGOs, should adapt to the new context marked by de-democratisation.

Closing remarks (17:30)

by Sabine Fandrych, Secretary General of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

There's more! (re)connect - The Future of Democracy Congress on 8 October in Berlin

In the super election year 2024, it is clearer than ever that democracy is not a foregone conclusion. In the past, it had to be fought for, today it has to be defended. But in order to strengthen trust and shape the future together, we also need to develop it further.

How? At the congress "(re)connect - The Future of Democracy" on 8 October in Berlin, our colleagues will discuss this with representatives from academia, civil society, the media and politics. The event will be held in German and features Martin SchulzSaskia EskenJan-Werner MüllerKevin Kühnert, and many others.

Are you committed to the future of our democracy? Register here and stay up to date about the programme and how to take part. Or visit the dedicated website