press release
Published: 12 July 2022

Bleak state of liberal democracy in Eastern Europe is the focus of new research

A new consortium of academics and leading think tank and policy practitioners are researching why the state of democracy looks bleak for the Eastern European periphery in the shadow of the conflict in Ukraine. 

The University of Surrey’s Department of Politics has been awarded a £658,665 grant from the Horizon Europe research programme of the European Commission to try to understand why illiberalism has made a comeback on the continent and to provide ways forward of solving problems with EU democracy support.  

The title of the new project is: REconfiguring EU DEMOcracy Support – Towards a sustained demos in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood (REDEMOS). The Surrey team is led by Professor Amelia Hadfield and Professor Theofanis Exadaktylos. 

Researchers in their activities will take a deep dive into the full array of political and governance regimes in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood, ranging from flawed democratisation in Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia, to democratic regression in Georgia and repressive authoritarianism in Belarus and Azerbaijan. 

The goal is to suggest and create ways in which the European Union can support the promotion of democracy in its eastern neighbourhood, for example, in the context of the conflict in Ukraine.  

Professor Amelia Hadfield, Head of the Department of Politics at Surrey, and co-investigator on REDEMOS, said: 

“At a time when the future of democracy in Ukraine hangs in the balance, studying the concepts, practices and behaviours that make up both illiberalism and re-democratisation is more vital than ever. It’s vital that we understand all the political, cultural, and economic forces at play so that we can bring this illiberal wave to a halt.” 

The funding covers a three-year-long project and includes 11 partner institutions, including non-EU partners in the UK, Norway, and Switzerland, with a total budget of €3.7 million. Furthermore, from the EU Commission’s perspective, it is critically important that all the programme leads on the project are women. 

Dr Madalina Dobrescu, lead investigator of the REDEMOS consortium at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway (NTNU), said: 

“The war in Ukraine has poignantly showed the strategic importance of embedding and preserving democratic values in Europe and beyond. As is so often stated these days, the brutal attack on Ukraine is not simply an assault on peace and sovereignty, but an evisceration of democracy itself. The EU must reconfigure its approach to democracy support, and we fully expect our REDEMOS project to break new ground in proposing a wholesale, radical reset in conceptualising, policy-making and implementing democracy in the eastern neighbourhood. 

“We are proud to be associated with key partners from across and beyond the EU, including our Ukrainian colleagues at the Kyiv School of Economics. 

 “Equally important, if democracy is being forced out in these parts of Eastern Europe, then so too are the voices of marginalised groups, including women’s voices. This is why it is so powerful to have an all-female-led team exploring these existential issues for liberal democracy.” 

Horizon Europe is the EU’s latest key funding programme for research and innovation. The programme tackles climate change, helps to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, investigates social and political current affairs in Europe and beyond, and boosts the EU’s competitiveness and growth. 

Note to editors  

  • Professor Amelia Hadfield (Co-I) is available for interview upon request