Wednesday | 21 Oct 2020
01 Nov 2004

Europeanisation as a Gravity Model of Democratisation

Gergana Noutcheva / Michael Emerson

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Much analysis of trends in democratisation in the world nowadays gives a rather pessimistic message, with such sweeping notions as the end of the third wave of democratisation, or of the democratic transition paradigm. A closer look at what has been happening in Europe, however, suggests that such analyses have often overlooked an important explanatory variable, captured in what we may call a ‘gravity model’, borrowing here a term from trade theory in economics. The gravity model of democratisation joins up with the mechanisms of Europeanisation, with democratisation progressing fast and deeply in 20 European states that were recently non-democratic, and which have various integrative relationships with the European Union. The trends and levels in the democracy scorecard in Europe as a whole show a clear correlation with the degrees of strength of these integrative relationships, and the results can be seen to be linked to the political conditionality and socialisation mechanisms of Europeanisation. Unfortunately for the advocates of universal democracy, other continents are presently unable to organise or access something similar, even Latin America where the US might have been expected to play more of an analogous role, and even less the Arab/Islamic world. This is not to argue that the values and mechanisms of democracy do not have universal plausibility, at least in the long run. But in the absence of the gravity variable in other continents, there should be soberly realistic expectations over the prospects for fast and deep democratisation. The EU may itself be reaching the outer limits of its gravitational power, but this is an ongoing story.