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Defending Democracy at Home and Abroad

15 October 2021

At the second edition of The Hague Democracy Drinks, Transparency International Nederland Director Lousewies van der Laan sparked a lively discussion about the role of the Netherlands in defending democracy at home and abroad, with a call to action to work together to champion the democratic values under threat in the world today.

“It is crunch time now,” Lousewies told the audience at the Nutshuis Juni Café on October 9. “If you look at what is happening in the world, we have to work together. This is the time when people are fed up and feel they can make a difference, and we have to show them that we can do that by working together on concrete solutions.”

Recommendations for government

Lousewies urged the Dutch government to set up a dedicated democracy fund to ensure smaller NGOs and civil society organizations working to promote human rights and democracy have access to the funding they need. She also highlighted threats to the rule of law in the Netherlands itself.

“We as Dutch seem to be very good at promoting democracy abroad and doing all the right things, but when we look internally, what is going on here?” she asked, referencing recent revelations about politicians’ finances in the Pandora Papers, and the scandal earlier this year over incorrect allegations of childcare benefit fraud.

When dealing with repressive and autocratic regimes around the world, she said governments must ensure that their actions reflected their values, and urged them to prioritize the fight against corruption. “Corruption is such a key ingredient in destroying societies, in undermining people’s trust,” she said.

“You cannot claim to support democracy if you accept corruption and electoral fraud.”

Thijs Berman, executive director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, said there needed to be greater coherence when promoting democratic values abroad. He said the failures in Afghanistan showed what happened when some of the core values of democracy were abandoned, including by foreign donors who choose to close their eyes and keep corrupt local leaders in place.

“You cannot claim to support democracy if you accept corruption and electoral fraud,” he said at the event organized by the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.

The opening remarks were followed by lively contributions from the audience, which included ambassadors, journalists, students, policy experts and members of civil society.

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About Democracy Drinks

Democracy Drinks is the initiative of Defend Democracy, which in 2018 launched a monthly informal networking event in Brussels bringing together fellow thinkers, advocates, organizers and enthusiasts in pro-democracy spaces. Since them, Democracy Drinks have taken place around the world, including in Washington DC, Berlin, and Kathmandu.