New Council of Europe report warns of democratic retreat across continent
A new report says there has been “a clear and disturbing degree of democratic retreat” to the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law across Europe.
The report was written by the 47 countries of the Council of Europe, the body that seeks to defend human rights around the world.
Its general secretary, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, said: “In many cases the problems we are seeing predate the coronavirus pandemic, but there is no doubt that the legitimate actions taken by national authorities in response to Covid- 19 aggravated the situation. “
“The danger is that our democratic culture will not fully recover.”
“Our Member States now face a choice. They can continue to enable or facilitate this democratic backtracking, or they can work together to reverse this trend, strengthen and renew European democracy and create an environment in which human rights and the rule of law flourish. . “
“This is the right option for the 830 million people who live in the Council of Europe area.”
“Our Member States now face a choice. They can continue to enable or facilitate this democratic backtracking, or they can work together to reverse this trend, strengthen and renew European democracy and create an environment in which human rights and the rule of law flourish. »Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejcinovic Buric
Based on the findings of different Council of Europe bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights, the report assesses recent developments in areas such as political institutions and judicial independence, freedom of expression and association, human dignity, the fight against discrimination and democratic participation.
The report encourages member states to use existing and future CoE mechanisms to address many of the challenges it identifies.
It indicates that national authorities should renew their commitment to CoE legal standards, including the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
It is not clear whether this is a blow to the UK and its legal obligations after Brexit, but Leave campaigners such as Nigel Farage have stressed the importance for the UK of free themselves from the obligation to comply with the judgments of the ECJ.
The restrictions and measures related to Covid, adds the report, “must be not only necessary and proportionate, but also limited in duration.
“National authorities should embrace democratic culture, recognizing where their words, activities or legislation have diminished this culture.”
Another report, meanwhile, claims that the government of Victor Orbán in Hungary “used media capture tactics to dismantle media freedom and media pluralism to a degree unprecedented in the European Union”.
The report, written by a coalition of press freedom watchdogs, says the European government’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have limited journalists’ ability to report freely.
The authors said that “the capture by the state-run media as a means of undermining independent journalism was particularly serious” in Hungary, citing the example of the media council which had withdrawn its license from the independent radio station Klubradio . The authors argue that the European Commission has so far failed to act.
Elsewhere, a poll indicates that only 36% of Hungarians believe their country is a democracy.
This is according to the Democracy Perception Index 2020, a survey by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, which measured attitudes towards democracy in 53 countries around the world. According to the survey, Hungary had the third largest perceived democracy deficit at 42% – the difference between the number of respondents saying their country is democratic and the number of people who think democracy is important.
In Hungary, 78% said democracy was important. In addition, 57% said that there was “not enough democracy” in Hungary. Only Poland and Venezuela have a higher perceived democratic deficit.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed in a recent interview that liberal democracy “has ceased to exist” and accused the EU of not being able to solve people’s problems.
Orbán’s Fidesz party recently left the European People’s Party and reportedly met other conservative and right-wing figures to discuss a “new political community”.
In the interview, Orbán said cooperation with French right-wing politician Marine Le Pen, a former MEP, was a “possibility”, which he had previously ruled out.