The research project EMBRACE (EMBRACing changE – Overcoming Blockages and Advancing Democracy in the European Neighbourhood) aims to respond to the counter-democracy trends after the coloured revolutions and the Arab Spring. It does 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. Together, 14 international partner institutions 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. Over the next 3 years, the consortium will receive EUR 2,8 million € funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe Framework Programme.

Key Objectives 

The main objectives of EMBRACE are to:

  • 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.

The empirical enquiry will encompass rigorous structured, focused in-depth case study analysis on episodes of deadlock and opening in 12 selected countries in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Western Balkans, Northern Africa and the Middle East (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon and Palestine). Intra- and cross-regional comparison is systematically included in EMBRACE’s research design.

The case studies will be structured along four main thematic clusters:

  • Configurations for democratic shifts after popular uprisings
  • Democratisation and economic modernisation in authoritarian and hybrid regimes
  • Blockages to democracy and peace in post-war contexts
  • Spheres of influence between major geopolitical powers

The project will seek to enhance participatory knowledge co-creation through a collaborative research design. The case studies are led jointly by universities or think tanks located in each of the respective regions, and by external academic institutions located in the EU and the UK with thematic and regional expertise. 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.

Finally, the project will develop an innovative set of tools and policy guidance, including a participatory approach which enables improved democratic governance and EU democracy promotion programming. In order to maximize the long-term impact of EMBRACE the results will be collaboratively exploited for further research, capacity-building and policy-making. The project involves the creation of digital open access tools, media podcasts and a knowledge-exchange network that is sustained for capacity-building and empowerment of citizens across the EU Neighborhood to enable mutual learning and community resilience.


ELIAMEP’s South-East Europe Programme as the Lead of Work Package 7 (WP7) will focus on “The geopolitics of EU Democracy Promotion (EUDP)”. Specifically, WP7 aims to understand EUDP’s potential for dealing with geopolitical challenges from powerful non-European actors (e.g. China, Russia, USA). It investigates how EUDP interacts or clashes with policies and tools used by other geopolitical actors. It will assess the relative strength of EUDP vis-à-vis policies deployed by other geopolitical actors. The analysis will focus, among others, on two key dimensions: first, the “domestic demand” for a backing of domestic actors by illiberal and authoritarian influences, and second, the economic and material footprint of non-EU actors, both occasionally producing blockages to democratisation and EUDP. WP7 will employ a mixed methods research design and will consider data in the form of semi-structured interviews, focus groups, public discourse and media reports, public opinion polls, expert surveys, economic indicators, governmental strategy papers and secondary sources such as academic studies and think tank reports. Fieldwork will be conducted in Ukraine (UESA), Georgia ILIAUNI), Serbia and North Macedonia (ELIAMEP), Algeria (ARI) and Palestine (PalThink).

In addition, ELIAMEP’s South-East Europe Programme will also lead the effort for building scenarios for the future of EU democracy promotion. Finally, the team of the South-East Europe Programme will implement research on North Macedonia in the context of the Work Package 4, which will investigate the  configurations of democratic policy shifts after popular uprisings.

Staff involved: Ioannis Armakolas, Dimitar Bechev, Isabelle Ioannides, Ana Krstinovska, Ioannis Grigoriadis 


  • Berghof Foundation (Germany)
  • Konstanz University (Germany)
  • University of Lleida (Spain)
  • University of Maastricht (Netherlands)
  • Stockholm University (Sweden)
  • University of Gent (Belgium)
  • Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) (France, Tunisia, Lebanon)
  • Ukrainian Association of European Studies (Ukraine)
  • Ilia State University (Georgia)
  • University University of Belgrade (Serbia)
  • Pal Think for Strategic Studies (Palestine)
  • Concentris research management GmbH (Germany)
  • University of Manchester (United Kingdom) – associated partner bringing their own funding

EMBRACE website: 


 This project is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement ID:101060809