Beginning of the end for CEE populists?



The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), wants to adopt a resolution in defense of liberal democracies, Euronews reports. The largest political grouping in the EU is reacting to mounting pressure that has allowed the rise of populism and erosion of the rule of law even from its own members, like Hungary’s Fidesz party. The EPP resolution titled “Protecting EU Values and Safeguarding Democracy” stresses the importance of rule of law, free media, free civil society, and the independence of the judiciary. The resolution will be voted on at the EPP congress in Finland, which starts on Wednesday.

Europe’s center-right will be the critical force in constraining the illiberal populists of East and Central Europe, commentator Ivan Krastev told a forum (above) at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Last weekend a coalition of opposition parties in Poland solidified the results of a stunning mayoral election season: In several major cities, including Warsaw, the opposition defeated the ruling Law and Justice party, a populist, anti-immigrant party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, notes Slawomir Sierakowski a founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.. Mr. Kaczynski’s party remains in control, for now, and it has touted its tightened hold on many of the country’s rural districts. But in all but the smallest cities, it is in free-fall, he writes for The New York Times:

The opposition, largely composed of liberal and center-left groups, has already succeeded in neutralizing the two issues that had given Law and Justice so much power over the past decade: boosting expensive social programs and stoking the fear of refugees. After the mayoral elections, it seems voters no longer find these issues compelling. Socialism and nationalism can lose to liberalism.

“With its large population and geographically central location, Poland is a kind of swing state that can turn the tide across Eastern Europe,” adds Sierakowski, a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy. “If populism is defeated in Poland, maybe it can be defeated elsewhere.”

When we see the political evolution towards illiberal tendencies in Eastern Europe, there are already enough reasons to be very worried, notes Koert Debeuf, a former advisor, speechwriter, and spokesperson of the prime minister of Belgium.

Oddly, illiberal groups and parties in Western and Eastern Europe are knocking at the door of their former archenemy: Moscow. Where the Right and the Far-Right once saw Communist Russia as the main reason for European cooperation, they now see the king of illiberal democracy, Vladimir Putin, as an ally against the same European cooperation. They find that Europe has become too liberal and insisting too much on building open societies, he writes for Carnegie Europe.

Despite all that, the European Union always has been and still is a liberal-democratic project. Unfortunately, it has turned into a defensive project in which liberal democracy is only being defended and sometimes even imposed. It’s the latter that irks the Visegrád countries, adds Debeuf, the director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Europe:

Imposing values is not the way forward. If the European liberal-democratic project wants to become attractive again, it will have to come with new ideas. Putting all hope on the classic Franco-German axis is a recipe for failure. It’s time for a new understanding between Eastern and Western Europe and for a new dialogue, which takes into account where the psychology of each country is coming from. Only then will Europe be able to move forward again.

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