The European Union (EU) was founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The accession process for new EU member states ensures that new countries adhere to these basic principles of democracy. But there are few mechanisms at the EU’s disposal for ensuring that member states do not slide backwards and become less democratic once they are part of the Union.

Reports on democratic backsliding tend to focus on Central and Eastern European countries, most notably Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. However, countries in Western Europe have also come under fire for undemocratic legislation, controversial policies on religious freedom and problems over corruption and media ownership.

Backsliders assesses in detail the status of democracy in seven European countries – France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Latvia – and considers how the EU should confront the challenge of upholding strong democratic values in all its member states. It also builds on existing measures from around the world to create a unique index that provides a detailed picture of democracy across Europe. The report concludes arguing that the EU, and the European Commission in particular, needs to fully embrace its role as a democratic protector.