How can regional organisations such as the EU, the OAS and UNASUR contribute to the protection of democracy in their respective member states? This study explores the performance of regional organisations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union and concludes that governments design democracy protection mechanisms with a strong intergovernmental bias that gives ample political discretion in reacting to eventual violations by offenders.
The European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced successive waves of democratisation. Starting from the 1970s, almost all countries in both regions can be qualified as democratic. In several cases, though, these democracies can be labelled as imperfect. Moreover, some countries have experienced instances of anti-democratic involution (in the most extreme cases) or an erosion of democratic institutions.
Membership of regional organisations has contributed greatly to transition to democracy and democratic consolidation. Both scholars and political leaders perceive that regional organisations have played a significant role, among other mechanisms through democratic conditionality. In most cases, these regional organisations have included provisions to verify that their member states remain democratic (and/or obey other values such as rule of law). But the relationship between the mechanisms for scrutinising compliance with these values and the performance of the organisation applying them remains underexplored.
This study analyses the institutional design of mechanisms of democracy protection (MDPs) in regional organisations in the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean. Three elements of the institutional design result particularly relevant: the procedures for activation of MDPs and the role of different actors (i.e. governments and/or autonomous organisation bodies); the mechanism for verification and review; and the type of sanctions in combination with the procedures to adopt them. The study concludes by making the case that intergovernmental decision-making for MDPs leaves ample room for political discretion and suggests a number of possible elements for improving institutional design.