Cluster 2: EMBRACE

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Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, the research project EMBRACing changE (Overcoming Blockages and Advancing Democracy in the European Neighbourhood) aims to respond to the counter-democracy trends after the colour revolutions and the Arab Spring. The project consortium brings together leading researchers from 8 universities (located in EU and non-EU countries) and 6 non-academic partner organisations, including think tanks, non-governmental organisations and foundations specialised in European and foreign policies, democratic change and conflict transformation, and one research management company. The project is coordinated by Dr. Véronique Dudouet (Berghof Foundation) together with Dr. Sonja Grimm (University of Konstanz) as co-coordinator and scientific lead. EMBRACE will run between October 2022-2025.

Project description

Since the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring, few countries in the European Union’s neighbourhood have made progress in democratisation. On the contrary, most are characterised by the reverse trends of illiberalisation, democratic backsliding or de-democratisation, and the rise of (competitive) authoritarianism or autocratisation. The 23 EU neighbouring countries clearly differ in terms of everyday political contention, governance, socioeconomic development, legacies of violent conflict, cultural values and beliefs that characterise their societies, and prospects of EU membership. However, they have one feature in common: the persistence and emergence of blockages to democratisation. These blockages prevent democratisation at the domestic level, preclude further approximation to the EU and negatively affect stability, peace and security in the European neighbourhood.

EMBRACE will offer the necessary academic analysis and a renewed policy toolkit to assist in overcoming these blockages. EMBRACE will develop innovative policy tools to improve the European Union’s capacity for democracy promotion, from above – through institution-building and collaboration with reform-minded elites, and from below – through engagement with civil society, social movements and popular uprisings. It will do so through an inter-disciplinary, multi-method and cross-regional assessment of both blockages to and drivers of democratisation in 12 case study countries across Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, Western Balkans, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The project will seek to enhance participatory knowledge co-creation through a collaborative research design. Additionally, to ensure that EMBRACE responds to real needs and pursues a context- and partner-sensitive approach, practitioners, policy-makers and prominent critics from EU bodies and fieldwork countries will be involved from early stages of the research endeavour. Regular stakeholder committees will be convened in each of the five regions in order to engage key social actors throughout the project. This will allow the integration of local perspectives on democracy from various stakeholders, and the adjustment of a ‘liberal democracy’ approach to less contested and more inclusive forms of democracy.


These are the objectives of EMBRACE:

  • Advance evidence-based knowledge on blockages to democratisation in the European Neighbourhood and ways to overcome them based on locally-owned solutions;
  • Strengthen the capacity of policy-makers and local stakeholders to incentivise resilient political actors to embrace democratic change, and enhance partnerships for a stable and secure European Neighbourhood in which democracy can flourish.

Role of Ghent University

The UGent research group in the project is composed by Prof. Fabienne Bossuyt and Dr. Laura Luciani. They will contribute to the project’s thematic clusters on democratisation and economic modernization in authoritarian countries, as well as on blockages to democracy and peace in post-war contexts – with a focus on Azerbaijan and Armenia respectively. The UGent research group is also the regional co-lead institution for fieldwork and stakeholder engagement regarding the South Caucasus.


To be announced


Prof. Fabienne Bossuyt
Department of Political Sciences

Funding info

vlag plat funded by the eu.JPG

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the authority can be held responsible for them.