Last November the fourth Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies (CD) took place in Bamako, Mali. The event was an important follow-up to the 2005 conference in Chile and brought together several hundred representatives from participating states and a diverse "Non-Governmental Process".
However, the event was minor in diplomatic terms, as most Western countries sent only low-level representatives (ambassadors instead of ministers), and the document agreed upon was a watered down consensus (not even a declaration).
The CD resembles an international organisation that considers all countries on an equal footing, except that membership is not straightforward, and neither were invitations to the Bamako conference. Countries were either "invited", "not invited" or invited as "observers" in a highly politicised process that lacked transparency.
It is also noteworthy that at Bamako there was no joint effort or coordination between member states at the EU level whatsoever, despite democracy promotion supposedly being one of the objectives of Common Foreign and Security Policy. It is also significant - and deplorable - that the EU is shunning an initiative in which non-Western voices and proposals have the floor.
After all the EU talk about multilateralism and partnership, disregarding such a democracy forum is simply counterproductive. With the establishment of the CD Permanent Secretariat in Poland, and the official hosting of the next Ministerial Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2009, Europe will receive an important opportunity to increase the CD's clout and credibility.
So what is the Community of Democracies really about and does it have a future? Should the so-far sceptical Europeans take it more seriously as a multilateral initiative aimed at promoting democracy?