Democracy is increasingly declining in many Eastern European countries. The American think tank Freedom House warns about this in a new report. Poland and Hungary, in particular, are in a downward spiral. According to the influential research collective, this is due, among other things, to the fact that the rule of law is constantly being eroded.
The think tank speaks of an “unparalleled democratic decline” over the past decade. Hungary is the biggest decline in democracy in the last seventeen years, when the think tank started monitoring. According to the researchers, both countries can no longer be called full-fledged democracies.
Freedom House points out, among other things, that the main parties in Hungary and Poland are attacking the principles of democracy and openly guilty of anti-democratic praze.
As an example, the researchers cite the plight of free media in Poland. Recently, a large Polish media company was taken over by state giant PKN Orlen. With this, Orlen acquired at once about twenty regional newspapers and 500 news sites. At the same time, the Polish state is the largest shareholder of the oil company. The Hungarian party Fidesz of President Orbán used this tactic earlier.
In addition, judicial independence in Poland is under pressure, says Kees Sterk, special professor of European justice. “Judges who make judgments which the government does not want are prosecuted disciplinary or even criminal. This cannot be done in the rule of law,” says Sterk in the CCEit Radio 1 Journal. “Judges should not be afraid that if they make a decision, they themselves will be put in front of the penal bench.”
Although the governments in Hungary and Poland have been democratically elected, Professor Sterk believes it is only a question of whether voters support these practices. It points out that when the current Polish government won the 2015 elections under President Andrzej Duda, reforms of the rule of law were not on the agenda.
But once in power, his party put Law and Justice (PIs) full on it. Strong: “For many voters, the judiciary is abstract and a far-from-their-bedshow. Thats why the government gets away with it.”
EU must intervene quickly
Freedom House says that the European Union must now intervene quickly. Among other things, large-scale sanctions against corrupt administrators and politicians must be taken into account. Furthermore, according to Sterk, the EU should not be afraid to start more lawsuits against the countries before the European Court and, if necessary, no longer provide budgets from the European coffers.
“ If the European Commission had been faster and more decisive, it would not have come to this,” says Sterk. “Now there must be plenty of gas.” He is not in favour of putting Hungary and Poland out of the EU as the ultimate consequence. “There are many people who are in favour of the EU. You have to be soft on the population, but hard on the government.”