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The Democratic Deficit Edition

17 October 2019

1. Story of the Week

 

What happened?

The state of democracy has been deteriorating in recent decades. Trust in political institutions, and politicians in western democracies have fallen to historic lows allowing strongmen to ride in with tough talk and action to match it. However, this week, a glimmer of hope showed as voters in Poland and Hungary went to the polls in parliamentary and local elections. While the Polish results are a mixed bag with both government and opposition gaining some victories, Hungary showed that an opposition can achieve victories and push for change, when it puts aside internal squabbling. Budapest will now be run by an opposition mayor, the largest defeat Viktor Orban has faced in ten years.

Why it matters

Authoritarian politicians provide simple yet powerful remedies to the ailments plaguing society. In Europe, Poland and Hungary have been noticeable in this regard. Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczyński have spurred fears of outside enemies, be it Middle Eastern refugees or globalised Brussels elites trying to undermine their countries and cultures. While the response from outside these countries has been timid, the countries are perhaps in better shape than many observers had feared. While the two governments' policies on climate, refugees or relations with Russia can be debated, their attempts at silencing dissent and controlling the courts are deeply concerning and the Commission has had limited tools at its disposal. No important policy can be agreed if a single Member State decides to use its veto as we have seen with the impotence Europe is showing the Kurds these days.

The takeaway

Democracy is a delicate garden that requires constant attention and vigilance from civil society and citizens. But without the right gardening tools, it can't be kept flourishing. The fact that the von der Leyen Commission is already looking weak even before taking office is not encouraging in that regard. European citizens will only be more disillusioned when the EU can’t get its act together even when the need for action is obvious to all and only plays into the hand of authoritarians. Times may be changing in Poland and Hungary, but hope is not a strategy. A reformed EU that can take action when needed is needed if we are to truly protect our democracies and show real internal sovereignty to solve the political issues facing member states and the bloc.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

10.000

The estimated number of protestors who swarmed Barcelona's El Prat airport after the Spanish Supreme Court announcement of the sentences of Catalan leaders who have received sentences of up to 13 years. The judgments are further dividing opinions and deepening wounds between those who believe the courts are promoting justice while opponents laud the boldness of Catalan leaders and ask for support from the EU. Spain will hold a general election later this year and the growing hostility is only fuelling the flames of extremes on both sides.

30

Days of expected delay facing the von der Leyen Commission before it can take off. France, Romania and Hungary have yet to get Commissioners nominated let alone put through hearings. The timetable is running behind schedule and the new Commission will therefore not be able to take office on November 1 as planned. That means more overtime for Jean-Claude Juncker who had probably hoped for an early Winter holiday.

950

The estimated number of ISIS supporters who fled jail after Kurdish forces were forced to abandon their positions in Northern Syria. The Kurds in Syria have long been western allies in the fight against ISIS but are considered an even bigger enemy by the Turkish government and the two sides have been in violent conflict for decades. While relations between Turkish President Erdogan and the European Union have been souring over the last decade, the new Turkish incursion into Syria has broken much of the remaining trust and is likely to render dead any remnants of turkey's candidacy for EU membership.

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4. Quotes of the Week

“No member state has ever been granted a better deal – and no state ever will be”

The assessment of George Eaton, a writer for the New Statesman. The last 24 hours have been a flurry of headlines and non-stop tweets ahead of the EU summit of heads of state where the fate of Brexit will, with a freshly pressed deal, will be on the table. But often forgotten in the current debate is the fact that the UK already had a superb deal with a special budget rebate and opt-outs from Schengen and the Euro. Whether the latest negotiations between the EU and the UK will succeed in most part relies on the political backing Prime Minister Boris Johnson can rally at home but regardless of the concessions given. The takeaway for EU officials will likely be to never give a member state special treatment in the future.

"It’s bizarre, as a type of relationship"

Words of French President Emmanuel Macron on the way the EU conducts its enlargement talks with third countries. The comment came in relation to the EU’s accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, which France solely decided to block. The French president has not exactly made many friends in the last few days. First, he antagonized the European Parliament and VDL for their failure to nominate Sylvie Goulard as Commissioner. He has now put himself at odds with all 27 EU Member States who feel bound to reward the candidate countries for their reform efforts which even included a name change for North Macedonia. Although the President is right that the EU needs further reform, failure to live up to previous promises can throw the Western Balkans back into disarray which would be even more bizarre and tragic for all.

“Don't be a tough guy"

Rather uncharacteristic words from US President Trump in an unorthodox letter to his Turkish counterpart Erdogan. The approach taken by the US government under the Trump can only be described as mercurial (at best) and completely incoherent and damaging at worst. While Trump seems fine with the fact that the released ISIS prisoners can now return to Europe, maybe the US president’s brutally honest approach will force EU member states to find a common foreign policy.

5. Video of the Week

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