The role of the European Community in the third wave of democratization

Past and present n. 3

This article is part of a column about how the history of the Old Continent is still relevant today.

Check out the 1st article here.

Check out the 2nd article here.


When we look at the European Union, we tend to associate it with values of freedom and equality and an engine of democratic stability. We should look back in history and ask ourselves whether democracies made the European Union or perhaps the influence of the European Community made democracies. As it often happens with this type of circular and tricky questions, the line is blurry, and the two options do not exclude each other. Once again, it is history that comes to us to help us find the answers to our questions and critically approach it.

If we wanted to look at the process of democratization through the whole European history, we would have to turn back to the XVIIIth century, when the values of the liberal State started emerging and then affirming themselves mostly during the XIXth century, with the first wave of democratization that brought into being a lot of democracies. We would then discuss the plague of totalitarianism and the second wave of democratization that followed their fall. In this article, we will however focus on the so called third wave of democratization, to use Huntington’s famous expression, that followed the fall of three important nondemocratic bulwarks that were still standing in Europe: Franco’s regime in Spain, Salazar’s regime in Portugal and the Regime of the Colonels in Greece. Although this was not the largest nor the last enlargement of the European Community, it is one that holds a particularly important significance, as it led to the inclusion and integration of countries whose historical baggage has always been considered to be deeply intertwined with the rest of the continent. While discussing the events that led to democratization in these three countries, we will look at how the European Community and the strive to join it influenced the pursuit of democratic values, in the hope of drawing some conclusions on the overall success of this integration and what it meant for both these countries and the European Union.


Democratic transition in Greece: from the fall of the colonel’s regime to EEC membership

Monument commemorating protests against the Regime of the Colonels in 1973. Source: Wikipedia


It is an historical fact that Greece belongs in Europe. Long before the European Union was even a project, it