On September 15, 2022, Canada took over the presidency of the Community of Democracies (CoD) from Romania for a period of one year. Cooperation Canada is thrilled to see Canada take this leadership role, with Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, being instrumental in promoting the values and standards outlined in the Warsaw Declaration, i.e., “advance and protect democratic freedoms, strengthen democratic institutions, and expand political participations.”[1] The Community of Democracies upholds these values as being essential to counter the threats on democracy and the rise in authoritarianism. Its civil society arm, the Civil Society Pillar (CSP), plays a key role in advancing those values through coordination, advocacy, and innovation. However, that important role has been somewhat undermined of late.

The CSP held their Assembly of Members of the Pillar on September 19 and 20 in New York City, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. The agenda on the first day included a presentation from CoD’s Secretary General, Thomas Garrett, as well as discussions with country representatives from Canada, Romania and the United States. Conversations that centered on fundamental issues around the CSP’s role in the Community and the renewal procedure for countries experiencing democratic backsliding were also covered. The second day’s talks were focused on processes within the CSP, including the transition of the chair role of the Pillar from Fundación Multitudes to Redlad, the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy. During that week was also scheduled CoD’s ceremonial transition of power at the Canadian Mission in New York City and attended by Minister Joly and Romania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. The CSP was invited to attend online but regrettably no representative was invited to attend in person, despite the presence of many CSP members in New York.

This latest attack on the legitimacy of the CSP follows the contested process that led to the renewal of Hungary’s membership to the CoD. The CSP was vehemently opposed to it because of Hungary’s recent democratic regression. The CSP’s strong recommendation not to move forward with their membership renewal was ignored, calling into question not only the country renewal process but also the very existence of the CSP. Many concerns were discussed this past month at the Assembly of Member of the Pillar, and the conversation will undoubtedly continue on wider questions around civil society involvement and weight in the democratic process.

As newly elected CoD President, Canada has the opportunity to bring meaningful change and challenge the status quo. As civil society focal point for CoD in Canada, Cooperation Canada is optimistically cautious, acknowledging the big task ahead to make sure civil society’s voices are heard and taken into consideration in CoD governance. We look forward to working with the new Presidency team to strengthen Canada’s leadership and bolster civil society participation in the Community’s mission.

[1] https://community-democracies.org/values/warsaw-declaration/