What does the term "Flawed Democracy" actually mean?
Why are some of the world's successful democracies like France, Israel and India rated "Flawed Democracies" by the Economist Intelligence Unit?
First off the wikipedia page that you cite to is based on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index ("EIUDI") which is not an academic source. The methodology used to assemble the report is not known, but that doesn't mean that it is not useful.
With that in mind from the EIUDI 2011 Report:
The EIUDI report uses five criteria to measure a country's democracy:
The countries that you are interested in scored as follows for these five categories:
France: France scores relatively low on "Functioning of government," "Political participation," and "Political culture."
Israel: Israel scores pretty bad on "Civil liberties," and sort of mediocre on everything else.
India: India scores bad on both "Political participation," and "Political culture."
So these countries have good governments, but there are certain issues typically related to the political culture that bring their overall score down and make them flawed democracies according to the index.
Democracy, in this index in particular, mostly refers to participation in the governments system of elections. Not electioneering, laws or even policies that could inherently discriminate. It is a weak index and is only useful for investors looking for a predictable government to trade with, or to entrench a western cultural world view. Its virtually guaranteed that foreign exchange controls and this index are highly correlated.
Besides the methodology of collecting information being scientifically unsound, this is not an indicator of human rights, discrimination in the public space, respect for international law or even outright racist laws and policies. These can all be violated "democratically". But then again, this is the Economist, which has proven repeatedly to present a highly neo-liberal bias in it's political commentary (white-male-westerners will likely disagree).
I guess you might say that the democracy in france is flawed by the actions of the workers'unions. There is little cooperation between governments and the unions, and the latter tend to veto any reform they don't like, through strikes and such.
On the other hand, France has a true democracy, and it must not be forgotten that the unions represent groups of the people. The USA on the other has what I would call a borderline democracy, given the electoral system, which results in only two parties being present in the parliament and the strong influence of corporate funding. Therefore I find it strange to see the US whith a deeper green than France.
Not a good index, not representative of the reality of the world.
Civil rights: The most important thing in a democracy is human and civil rights, as well as the rule of the law (ie not arbitrary decisions). With the Indefinite Detention Act voted in the USA, plus Guantanamo, non respect for international laws, drones strikes, the enforced role of the military in the civilian sector, police brutality... and so much more, the USA is way down in the rank of democracies.
Political culture: This is set upside down, a ridiculous way of evaluation. France gives exposure to all presidential as well as house representatives candidates: equal time to speak on TV, equal exposure in all aspects during the weeks before the elections. And that's how you can promote knowledge and awareness, which is culture. It is not at all this way in America. On the contrary, the US people are stuck with their two political parties system that represents the rich and powerful elite only, those capable of paying to be heard and known by the public. "Culture" in the US is only available on given topics, the point of views of the rich and interests of big business only. This only promotes ignorance. Actually, the USA is not democracy, it's plutocracy. It does not deserve a high rank. It has one of the lowest and most backwards political culture and system in the Western world, belonging to the beginning of the 20th century, no longer to the 21rst.
Corruption should be a major criterion to include in the index. There, France ranks very low. So does the USA.
Freedom of press is an aspect, but the actual representation of a greater diversity of points of views from all sides should be the criterion to include in the index. That's the means and obstructions to freedom of expression. It is huge in the USA with over 85% of all news coming out of 5 corporations linked to the CIA, defense conglomerate and corporate interests in general.
And much more.