30th Sep 2023

'Constitutional populism' threatens EU democracy, Latvia president warns

  • Latvia’s president Egils Levits, who served as a member of the European Court of Justice for 15 years before becoming head of state (Photo: European Parliament)
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Latvia's president warned MEPs on Tuesday (14 February) that "constitutional populism" in some EU countries is putting European democracy at risk.

Egils Levits, who served as a member of the European Court of Justice for 15 years, took a dig at at the Hungarian and Polish governments — without mentioning them by name — saying the EU's democracy and rule of law are under threat from within.

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"The most obvious challenge [the EU faces] is a desire to limit the rule of law on the basis of populist arguments about the will of the people," he said at the European Parliament's plenary.

Levits said that a "modern constitutional democracy is based on a carefully balanced system" with a democratically elected parliament and an independent judiciary.

"The upsetting of this balance the proponents of constitutional populism are seeking to achieve may ultimately lead to the weakening or complete loss of democracy itself," he said.

Levits, who served as ambassador to Hungary in the 1990s, said that if there is a problem with rule of law in one member state, it affects the entire EU.

"The democracy process itself, free election and political freedoms, the core European political identity can only be guaranteed by such a system of checks and balances," he warned.

"In some cases these populist tendencies have lead to disputes that are now difficult to unravel in purely legal way," Levits said, adding that political solutions need to be found.

"The rule of law in Europe must not be weakened," he argued.

Levits, who has been the head of state and chief commander of the Baltic country since 2019, said European values — such as democracy, rule of law and fundamental human rights and the legal system "make the EU and our common way of life attractive for us and attractive for others".

He said member states of the EU are "in principle stable, consolidated democracies", however, "we face serious challenges", referring to the populists.

Hungary and Poland have been under EU scrutiny for years over their weakening of the rule of law, politicising the judiciary — and in the case of Hungary, dismantling other independent institutions.

"The European legal system is based on mutual trust, that the same principles apply in all member states in the same way, without exceptions," Levits warned.

He said the national identity, culture, language and traditions of member states should not be interfered with by "Europe", but that the principles of rule of law must be the same everywhere.

It is the common European legal system that distinguishes the EU from all other international organisations, he argued.


Levits did not mince words when it came to criticising the western part of the EU for allowing the bloc to become dependent on Russian energy, which he called "naive".

He said that despite the collapse of the Soviet Union more than thirty years ago, "the borders of awareness" in Europe still exists.

"European history for too long has been seen as just western Europe and this provincialism prevents us from achieving our goals," he told MEPs.

Levits said there is a need for common understanding of European history where there is a place for the historical experiences of all European nations. Having a "consolidated common point of view" helps Europe define its place in the world, he argued.

Levits, who spoke to MEPs as part of a series of EU leaders paying out their European vision invited the lawmakers to Riga, and to "get to know us".


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