How European Democracies Are to Survive a New Trump Age

Special foresight report for the EU's Strategic Agenda 2024-2029

13 November 2023

Wojciech Przybylski


The next five years will be the make-or-break moment for the European promise to ensure peace, stability and prosperity.

Depending on the ability to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and the nature of transatlantic relations, the European Union will have to adapt to a quickly changing global environment to protect its democratic foundations.

A foresight-driven debate in Central and Eastern Europe to shape the future direction of EU policy development while protecting European values and freedoms. Click this link to read more about the project and download the report

The EU’s solidarity with Ukraine will reverberate with the democratic processes across Europe. Similarly, the shape of American politics will affect European electoral trajectories.

Such critical junctures are particularly pronounced in Central Europe – primarily in the four Visegrad democracies, where the tensions over the rule of law and security have already altered the Union’s political dynamics. Threat perceptions and trends amplified in the region are more likely to impact the future of the block overall, and the regional perspective – however rarely coherent – must therefore be considered in planning the future EU Strategic Agenda 2024-2029.

Since its onset, the European project has been primarily a peacebuilding effort. In line with this original objective, the EU agenda has developed further to also include prosperity, democracy and foreign policy. But this does not mean that peace and democracy are certainties, as reminded by the ongoing war in Ukraine, tragic events in Israel or the continuing efforts to restore the rule of law on the continent.

Given the ongoing global pressures from climate change to the new geopolitical conflicts, the 2023 Granada declaration of the European Council reiterated the EU’s promise of peace and prosperity.

However, too little emphasis has been placed on the internal processes that ensure that democratic foundations are protected along with economic and security resilience.

This report identifies four major scenarios that develop along potential transatlantic unity-disunity and the future of the EU perspective on the war in Ukraine. The fallout of each scenario on the EU’s democratic security agenda is significant.

Given the ongoing war and deteriorating situation in the Middle East, defence coordination, economic focus and natural resources supply are understandably prioritised.

The “Resilient EU2030” report by the Spanish presidency dwells on the areas that will keep a peaceful and prosperous Europe together. It mentions “democracy” in the past tense and only once on 81 pages in a section about multilateralism.

Similarly, the Commission President’s 2023 State of the Union address mentions the term only four times while it refers to “security” 15 times – each instance in a context disconnected from the realm of EU values.

However, the future ambitions of the EU are inherently dependent on democratic performance. The global EU directions are prone to uncertainties embedded in electoral processes.

The 2023 elections in Poland and Slovakia brought into light a delicate fabric of values and interests. Voters in both countries decided against underperformance – also in the area of EU funds. In effect, Poland pushed away illiberalism and nationalist narrative that was endangering further EU cooperation with Ukraine. In contrast, Slovakia brought back the same actors who were previously rejected for the rule of law misconduct. The leaders of the new government have been declaring a U-turn on Slovakia’s position towards military aid for the neighbouring Ukraine.

In this light, contributors to this report have been mapping trends and potential triggers of change relevant to the “Democracy Action Plan”, the “EU Citizenship Report 2020,” and the “EU Rule of Law Report”. The report offers a specific perspective that indicates which democratic agenda pillars might require more focus along shifting geopolitical landscapes.

Given the geopolitical rationale, each of the presented four scenarios would likely alter the democratic security agenda in ways that should prompt relevant anticipatory policy planning in the following areas:

  1. Align EU values and interests together in key strategic EU plans to ensure competitive economies and prosperity for all.
  2. Evaluate the EU impact in the domains of the rule of law, accounting rules, and investment screening on democratic action plan areas with special regard for free and fair elections.
  3. Emphasise the rule of law’s effect on member states economic performance to ensure prosperity for all and prevent state capture.
  4. Conduct an EU-wide public inquiry into domestic and foreign surveillance. Safeguard journalists’ environment to prevent democratic system abuse and protect EU intellectual property against theft.
  5. Foster European donors to align on EU-wide values advancement and joint funding for civil society, given the outflow of transatlantic donors from CEE member states.
  6. Shape the European Media Freedom Act for enforcement, considering countries where the restoration of pluralism in public service media will first require political interference (Poland or Hungary).
  7. Build policies on the successful cases of youth and female participation in the democratic process and sponsor action against SLAPPs.
  8. Innovate policies for civic education in the EU and neighbourhood, including Ukraine’s veterans. Consider future Ukraine’s impact on Russia’s future democratisation.
  9. Ensure that member states develop an interest in the future Ukraine victory sponsored by European resources and are insulated against Russia’s potential implosion.
  10. Ensure strategic communication on the EU’s mental health programmes to debunk health-related disinformation and ensure grassroots effectiveness.

Click this link to learn more and download the report

Wojciech Przybylski


Political analyst heading Visegrad Insight's policy foresight on European affairs. His expertise includes foreign policy and political culture. Editor-in-Chief of Visegrad Insight and President of the Res Publica Foundation. Europe's Future Fellow at IWM - Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna and Erste Foundation. Wojciech also co-authored a book 'Understanding Central Europe’, Routledge 2017. He has been published in Foreign Policy, Politico Europe, Journal of Democracy, EUObserver, Project Syndicate, VoxEurop, Hospodarske noviny, Internazionale, Zeit, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Onet, Gazeta Wyborcza and regularly appears in BBC, Al Jazeera Europe, Euronews, TRT World, TVN24, TOK FM, Swedish Radio and others.

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