Thursday

20th Jun 2019

Opinion

Preventing the return of Europe's authoritarian right

  • The rule of law framework should be applied to Poland and it should have already been used in Hungary (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

So now it’s Poland. For the last five years Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has dismantled democratic checks and balances and declared the end of the liberal aspect of liberal democracy.

The other EU member states and Brussels huffed and puffed, but did not want to take any serious action against the erosion of democracy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • After second world war the right wing in Europe broke its link to authoritarian rule, paving the way for stable democratic pluralism in Europe (Photo: wikipedia)

Understandably there was little appetite for another EU crisis, but it was the moment to nip the idea of illiberal democracy in the bud before it spreads. That moment has passed.

Being rammed through parliament in no time, the attack of Poland’s Law and Justice party on the country’s Constitutional Court and media bears the hallmarks of an Orban manoeuvre, but it is even more breath-taking, coming within weeks of being elected with 38 percent of votes.

The ideology of Orban’s Fidesz party and the Polish Law and Justice party are sometimes described as a rebellion of a majority which feels marginalised. While this may be their self-perception, it’s not how these parties behave.

There are many models of democracy and there is nothing wrong with a party that promotes re-calibrating the balance of power somewhat towards majority decision-making, for example by introducing referendums, or by reducing the scope of a Constitutional Court.

But such delicate shifts should come after consultation rather than being made overnight and they should not result in one branch of power being completely undermined.

Orban paints an image of himself as a man of the people, who is not hiding behind laws and bureaucracy, ready to make tough decisions. Yet, he is not relying on the power of persuasion.

He has barricaded his ideology behind a pliant constitutional court, tamed media and a new constitution which he never dared put to a referendum. The OSCE’s election observers had serious concerns about the level playing field in Hungary’s elections.

Democracy

At heart, these new right-wing parties are not the robust pro-people forces they claim to be. They are afraid of the people and skew the system to make sure their positions become immune to democratic challenge.

In short, they look much like the old authoritarian right.

After the Second World War the right wing in Europe broke its link with authoritarian rule, paving the way for stable democratic pluralism in Europe. Hungary’s Fidesz and the Polish Law and Justice party are now re-establishing the link.

Socially conservative positions are no problem for democracies. EU member states ruled by conservative parties have adopted all kinds of conservative policies, but they do not try to lock down the pluralistic process.

Many in Europe hope that Poles will withstand the onslaught on their democratic order and solve the problem at home. This would indeed be the best outcome, but given how the Law and Justice party steamrolls state institutions, only a massive social mobilisation could stop it. Will enough Poles conclude that while they wanted a new government, they do not want to end democracy?

In the EU a democracy problem in one member state is a democracy problem for all, because member states have votes in legislating for the whole Union. Democratic shortcomings in one member state contaminate the entire system, which is built on the premise of including only functioning democracies.

This is why the main remedy to an erosion of democracy in a member state is the suspension of voting rights of that member state in the EU Council according to article 7 of the EU Treaty.

Despite clear language in the EU Treaty on human rights and democracy, in the case of Hungary the European Commission did not make an overall assessment and instead focused on limited issues where it had a more specific legal basis.

When Fidesz got rid of judges by lowering the retirement age, the commission approached this as a matter of age discrimination, rather than an attack on the independence of the judiciary.

Under pressure for its limited response to the developments in Hungary, the commission then adopted a “rule of law framework,” essentially a dialogue with a member state to find out if it is willing to change course sufficiently to avoid the article 7 process. Until today it has not used the framework.

Poland’s Law and Justice party, in its outright refusal to accept a judgment of the country’s highest court and its transparent attempt to paralyse it, has provided a smoking gun that proves that domestic rule of law does not work any more.

The rule of law framework should therefore be applied to Poland and it should have already been used for Hungary.

The commission will discuss this on 13 January.

It should decide to launch these procedures now and deserves the support of the other EU member states.

Europe cannot look the other way when authoritarian rule is raising its head in a member state.

When joining the EU, states made a clear choice for pluralistic democracy. They should not be allowed to go back on that obligation.

Michael Meyer-Resende is the director of Democracy Reporting International, a Berlin-based NGO (@Meyer_Resende). This is his personal opinion

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Poland to trade UK welfare for Nato bases

Poland says willing to trade British welfare rights for UK support for Nato bases, as country edges closer to EU pariah status over domestic reforms.

Magazine

'Dictator' vindicated

In January, Viktor Orban's inflammatory comments concerning migrants raised eyebrows. By the end of the year, politicians across Europe echoed his sentiments.

EU must counter Kushner's so-called 'peace' plan

This so-called "Deal of the Century" on Israel/Palestine is likely to be no more than a big sham, and the US-led economic peace workshop in Bahrain will hardly change this perception.

What's going on in Moldova - and what next?

Over the weekend, as private jets evacuated prominent members of the Democratic Party and their allies, Moldovans celebrated the peaceful power transition. Looking beyond the euphoria that surrounded the celebrations, the new government is facing many challenges.

News in Brief

  1. Johnson vs. Hunt to replace May as UK leader
  2. EU leaders take aim at Russia's role in Ukraine
  3. EUobserver appoints new interim editor-in-chief
  4. Ombudsman: Tusk's staff should record lobby meetings
  5. Tusk now 'more cautious' on top jobs decision at summit
  6. Mogherini: my replacement 'needs security experience'
  7. Irish PM: 'enormous hostility' to new Brexit extension
  8. Merkel hopes to name commission chief by early July

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. Additional summit over top EU jobs looms
  2. EU advisor roasted over Russian media interview
  3. EU must counter Kushner's so-called 'peace' plan
  4. Tusk wants quick deal on EU top jobs at Thursday summit
  5. EU keeps North Macedonia and Albania at arm's length
  6. What's going on in Moldova - and what next?
  7. EU officials prepare for US extravaganza on Palestine
  8. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us