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.


Within the project, ARI's is leading Work Package 4: "Configurations for Democratic Policy Shifts after Popular Uprisings". The research explores how small-scale democratic gains occur as a result of the reconfigurations that popular uprisings produce; and, conversely, to identify blockages to such small-scale gains during moments of uprising or their aftermath. In addition, the work package investigates how EU democratization policies (EUDP) either contributed to these changes or indeed were irrelevant, and what the EU could have done to facilitate change or alleviate blockages. The work package is organized around three research questions. First, at the macro-level, what are the forms of fluidity and strategic contingency in institutional, relational, and discursive terms that emerged during and in the aftermath of the popular uprising under consideration? Second, at the micro-level, what are the specific reconfigurations emerging out of the popular uprising that underlie the episode(s) of democratic gain/blockage under investigation? And third, how did EUDP interact with these reconfigurations at the macro- and micro-levels to either lend support to democratic gains or inadvertent support to blockage? The research also aims to assess as the expectations among democratic social and political forces in terms of EU support and what types of EUDP, from their perspective, are most needed. The objective is to make a contribution to the research on the relationship between popular uprisings and democratization by shifting the analytical focus away from top-down and institutional explanations of success or failure of democratic transition to the micro-level, bottom-up relational and interactionist dynamics within smaller episodes. Through comparative analysis, ARI will identify similar mechanisms across the case studies, with emphasis on thick description, to generate generalizable knowledge on reconfigurations post-uprising and the relationship to small-scale democratic gain/blockage. We will also make policy recommendations to the EU regarding which EUDP policies are most effective under different configurations. Fieldwork will be conducted in Algeria (ARI), Tunisia (ARI), Lebanon (Berghof), Ukraine (UESA), Belarus (UM), Georgia (ILIAUNI), Armenia (ILIAUNI), Serbia (FPN), and North Macedonia (ELIAMEP).

In addition, ARI will also contribute to three other work packages within EMRBACE, conducting research on Algeria and Lebanon on economic modernization and hegemonic reproduction in blocking democratization; post-conflict transitional frameworks and the counter-peace in relation to democratic transition; and geopolitical challenges to EUDP and the role of China and Russia in authoritarian maintenance. As regional lead within the consortium, ARI is also conducting stakeholder dialogues with researchers, activists, civil society organizations, political actors, and journalists in order to ensure active exchange and mutual learning between the research consortium and the key voices vying for meaningful democratic change and social justice.


  • 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


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

Project sponsor