far right poland 2

Europe’s Rule-of-Law Crisis

By Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, is President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament.

From the rubble of two world wars, European countries came together to launch what would become the world’s largest experiment in unification and cooperative, shared sovereignty. But, despite its impressive achievements over the decades, the European project now risks disintegration.
An unresolved financial crisis, a refugee crisis, a deteriorating security environment, and a stalled integration process have created throughout Europe a toxic, unstable political environment in which populism and nationalism thrive. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of this is the erosion of the rule of law in the European Union.

Two EU members in particular, Hungary and Poland, are now jeopardizing hard-won European democratic norms – and thus undermining the very purpose of European integration.

  • In Hungary, liberal-democratic values have come under systematic attack from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. Since his return to the premiership in 2010, Orbán has committed Hungary to an authoritarian nationalist path, and he has exploited the refugee crisis to cement a “siege mentality” that helps him sustain popular support.
    In the process, fundamental rights have been ignored, media freedom has been curbed, refugees have been demonized, and Orbán is doing everything in his power to weaken the EU. Attempts by EU institutions to convince Orbán to change course have only emboldened him to commit further outrages against democratic norms.

 

  • Meanwhile, a democratic crisis has emerged in Poland as well, starting last October, when the Law and Justice (PiS), a Euroskeptic party that also opposes immigration, secured an outright parliamentary majority by promising to implement populist economic policies and “put Poland first.” Yet, since the election, PiS has launched a series of attacks on the Polish constitution itself.
    Government legislation aimed at reforming Poland’s Constitutional Court has been condemned by the Court itself and the European democracy watchdog, the Venice Commission. The government has effectively precluded the Court from ruling on the constitutionality of legislation. This weakens a key pillar of the democratic rule of law – and thus is highly problematic for Poland and Europe alike.

 

  • Hungary and Poland are the leading edge of a far-right agenda that has taken hold throughout Europe, pursued by parties that are exploiting the political vacuum created by the EU’s failure to address the financial and refugee crises. So how can the tables be turned?

 

In democratic countries, it is vital that democracy’s enemies be fought with democratic means. It is vital that the outside world impress on the Hungarian and Polish people themselves that in a globalized world, nationalism offers only false security and economic irrelevance. Both countries, at the heart of Europe, have profited enormously in every sense from EU membership; they must not throw away their opportunity to make further progress.
Hungarians and Poles rejected international isolation in 1989. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, both countries became staunch NATO allies even before they joined the EU. The geopolitical and security arguments for European unity are overwhelming, and there can be no united Europe without Hungary and Poland.
But all of us, and in particular the peoples of Hungary and Poland, must remember that NATO, like the EU, was founded on the fundamental principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. A government that flouts those principles jeopardizes the coherence and solidarity of the alliance. It is therefore vital that the United States and other NATO allies speak out now and insist that functioning democratic checks and balances are safeguarded. It would be unimaginable for NATO heads of state to go ahead with their planned leadership summit in Warsaw in June if Poland remains in its constitutional crisis, with the government disregarding the rule of law and the opinion of a respected international body.
Hungarians and Poles must be reminded that Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively attempting to divide and weaken the EU and NATO. If Europe is to face down aggression from the Kremlin, it is essential that Poland and Hungary adhere to these groups’ fundamental values and principles.

But it is also necessary that the EU itself develop a more comprehensive mechanism for safeguarding the rule of law within the Union. The EU has mechanisms to regulate economic policies, safeguard the environment, and police the Single Market. But Europe has always been much more than an economic project; it is also a union of values, which no member can be allowed to repudiate without consequence.
Governments are created and fall apart, and politicians come and go; but democratic institutions should be spared from political interference. The sad reality is that, were they to apply for EU membership today, neither Hungary nor Poland would be admitted. Their people should weigh carefully what that means. Their current leaders claim to be defending national interests. But is it really in their countries’ interest to be sidelined by the US, NATO, and the rest of Europe?

 

*The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author on this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Eyes on Europe and the Middle East blog.

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5 thoughts on “Europe’s Rule-of-Law Crisis”

  1. I vote Brexit…..
    The oh,so,democratic E.U…..does nothing for me.
    But this man does..
    E.F. Schumachers
    “Small is Beautiful”
    A Study of Economics as if People Mattered….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Penelope, i doubt that the Brexit would have a positive impact on the british economy. However, i believe that the current European Union has lost its values. Besides, the United Kingdom (previous governments) had always pushed for a bigger European Union, a more liberal Europe etc. Certainly i don’t want a press freedom Europe made with the current rules in Poland or Hungary, a life under austerity as in Greece and its lost generations without future. Everyone wants to play with its own rules and the refugee crisis showed that the EU cannot take a unique decision to solve an issue. I doubt that the mass production of our daily needs made in China could change from one day to another just with a Brexit. Uk’s industry will have always their offices at the City but the production will always be outside the European borders somewhere where people’s lives doesn’t matter so and of course with cheap labour. After all, people vote for political parties which are based on capitalist interests as George Soros one’s. I hope that if and when Brexit occurs people in the Uk will take the power on their hands…. but in my own opinion today is too late

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Better late than never!
        I have not forgotten what the EU did to Greece….and the rest.
        And I oppose Obama’s and his corporations and his comments on Brexit….I wish he would stick inside the good ole USAaaaa and mind his own B. Business.
        TTIP…to you,which I oppose…
        Sure things will be tough for awhile,but at least we might gain ‘integrity’
        in the process and battle for our rights within the UK.
        I oppose The Tory government as well.
        Thanx
        😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ps
    The right wing has gained many votes because of Merkel…
    The real problem lies in USA , Saudi Arabia etc….their policies stink and so does war!
    The E.U. is falling apart…too late.
    ‘sides the Germans have a vastly different world view to the southern countries……and Goldman Sachs reigns….
    “The rich go to the rich
    and the fleas go to the fleas”
    Good old Romanian proverb..
    grin

    Liked by 1 person

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