The OECD’s new commitment to ‘building trust and reinforcing democracy’ arrives amid a broader international movement to address ‘backsliding’. In this post, Sophie Andrews-McCarroll explains the new initiative.
Alarm bells have increasingly been sounded about the risks of democratic backsliding across the world – including in established democracies in Europe, the UK and US. Backsliding is the process by which a state becomes gradually less democratic – often manifest in the reduction of checks and balances, breakdown in political norms, and reductions in civil liberties and electoral integrity. It is facilitated by political polarisation, and declining public trust in democratic institutions. The OECD’s new initiative on ‘building trust and reinforcing democracy’ – discussed at a high-level ministerial meeting, chaired by Luxembourg, in November – is one response to these concerns.
The OECD approach to policy problems
The OECD is an intergovernmental organisation that provides countries with independent policy analysis to promote economic and social well-being. It promotes best practice and provides international benchmarks, seeking to promote evidence-based policy solutions and entrench norms through a peer review and surveillance approach. Its authority rests on its technical expertise, and it lacks the coercive instruments available to other international organisations like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union or World Trade Organisation. This appeal to evidence and best practice is supported by a consensus-based model of decision making: all 38 member countries must unanimously agree to all commitments or declarations made, and any action plans adopted. Such an approach means that initiatives can only be agreed if they have broad buy-in, including from smaller, traditionally less powerful countries. But it also means that ambitious goals may have to be watered down to achieve consensus.
Building trust and reinforcing democracy
This subject has been a long-standing OECD priority, being on the organisation’s horizon since at least 2013. But the holding of the ministerial meeting – which itself required a consensus decision by the member states – reflects its topicality and urgency.
It also comes amid a number of other international initiatives designed to strengthen democracy. Notably, these include the United States’ 2021 ‘Summit for Democracy’, an international summit which set out a programme of democratic reform to be pursued during the following ‘Year of Action’, and followed up at a second summit in March 2023. The US was a vice-chair – along with Colombia, France and Lithuania – of the OECD ministerial meeting, reflecting the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to reversing both the notorious democratic erosion the US suffered under Donald Trump, and its retreat from multilateral institutions and agreements. The November meeting also followed, and drew on, an extensive cross-national survey investigating public trust levels across 22 OECD countries.Continue reading