Eight of the European Union's new members have been given top marks for their democratic credentials in a study by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation. The Czech Republic was nominated as the leader of the pack.
The EU's new member states have shown strong democratic credentials
The eight countries were among 14 states to be classified as "consolidated democracies" in the Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2008 (BTI). The findings were made public in the German newspaper Die Welt a day before their official release.
The Baltic republic Latvia is the only country that has managed to move up into the lead group since the last study in 2006.
Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU at the start of 2007, made it into the second best group. They were described as being at a stage of "advanced transformation". Their accession to the European Union was deemed to have acted as a strong incentive for political change.
Results less positive in Turkey
This Turkish woman is clearly enthusiastic about the democratic process
By contrast, Turkey's eagerness to embrace political reform was judged to have flagged since it started accession discussions, with insufficient acceptance of democratic institutions. But the study's authors felt the country had made economic progress.
Overall, however, the findings of the study make depressing reading. While nominally the number of democracies is on the rise, more and more are developing autocratic features, according to the BTI's results.
Officially, 75 of the 125 states examined have a democratic system with free elections, separation of powers and civil rights -- five more than in 2006. The number of countries that have introduced free and fair elections over the last two years has risen by 10 to 79.
Some democracies seriously flawed
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But only 23 of those states do not have serious deficiencies. Over forty of them were classified as "defective democracies" and ten of them as "very defective democracies", including Russia. Venezuela has dropped to join that group.
In eight countries, the situation has deteriorated considerably. Thailand has slipped from being classed as a "defective democracy" to a "moderate autocracy" since the military coup. But Liberia, on the other hand, is now once again categorized as a democratic state.
Project leader Hauke Hartmann told Die Welt that democracies which remain instable for a longer period are particularly endangered.
"The longer a country remains in such a state, the more sceptical the population becomes towards the democratic system and its institutions," she said.
Fifty states do not even fulfil minimal democratic criteria. Somalia brings up the rear both in terms of political and economic change and as far as its government's reform efforts are concerned.
The Transformation Index does not include established industrialized nations, such as Germany.