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As we all know the Copenhagen Criteria defines whether a country is eligible to join the EU or not, based on political, economical and legislative aspects. The Criteria guided all aspiring Central and Eastern-European countries to successful application to the EU since 1993. Nowadays after 25 years of the birth of the Copenhagen Criteria we face problems regarding the application of it. As far as I am concerned one of the most critical problems is, that the EU and its institutions only monitor the externalities of the Criteria such as free elections with a secret ballot or freedom of personal opinion. Thus the lack of in depth monitoring and analysis of each member states political practice, misbehaving member states like Poland or Hungary can easily get away with acting purposely against the fundamental principles of the European Union based on our common values. Since these governments are in power because of formally free elections and operating in liberal democracies they can continue to hide their authoritarian actions and practices in the frame of democracy, thanks only to the lack of in depth monitoring and the lack of sanctioning. Without well outlined and strict sanctioning policies there isn’t anything which could hold back member states who decided to act against the European principles. Therefore without strict sanctioning we can’t guarantee that every single member state which joins the EU by promising to keep in practice the fundamentals of the Copenhagen Criteria will actually do so. The right-wing populists we sadly have to face in our own European community only respects strength in political discourse. Minding the fact, that we cannot descend to their level, we should make it clear, that if one member of our community would like to benefit from the goods of the community, then it has to follow the common principles of it. Stepping up together against those governments who pose a threat to our common values is necessity, however sanctioning can never replace only supplement conversation with our fellow members of the community. Understanding, listening to the people and acting in unity is the only social democratic, the only true way of solving the problem right-wing populists pose to the European Union.

Profile photo of Balazs Balazs

Democracy is in our culture, in our air: We breathe democracy! We breathed democracy when we were young and while growing up as European citizens. We all wanted to enjoy the European values of freedom. We wanted to emerge and enjoy the richness of these values. They were the natural consequences of the end of a bloody WWII. However, we took for granted that these democratic values were there for us and our civilization, but today populism is once again challenging these democratic values. We invented our European democratic values as a consequence of widespread dictatorship across Europe. But, everything that is invented by human beings, it can also be destroyed. Today, we suffer, we are afraid, because we see the erosion of these democratic values. We are angry, because we see that a group of illiberal politicians are threatening our societal freedoms. We need to train our European thinking, to behave and to create a common democratic standard. Democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights are customary principles in which we all believe in, and they are at the core of the Copenhagen criteria as much as the need to have a functioning market economy. Economic problems, inequality, unemployment, health… all these issues exacerbated frustration and unhappiness, that turned the electorate to populist leaders. What populism has given to some EU citizens is a hope for a future but at the cost of basic freedoms and democracy. A hope that people and voters has not seen in other political programmes. Populism has given an answer to existential fears of tomorrow. Why do some voters feel comfortable with populism ? Populism keeps people attached to the surface of things, populism does not leave time to people to think more in depth about their daily problems, does not leave time to people for more thoughtful thinking. Populism only creates fake enemies personified in our neighbours. Populism teaches citizens to hate the neighbours. If we want to reveal the symptom, the cause that brought populists to power, we need to determine the meaning of the general social unhappiness. We need to talk and understand and confront social unhappiness. Therefore, my doubt… are we more in love with the old European desire for democracy or with a clear tangible democratic life that has benefits for the people? Hence, are the Copenhagen criteria enough developed to represent the needs of European people? When democracy attains a supranatural meaning, based on a fantastic ideal, and not on a clear vision, this generates insecurity in the electorate. But when democracy represents the stability and the security of a European shared life, then democracy is the light in citizens life from birth to death. Citizens, then, think about their future and what will it be under a tangible democratic umbrella. Democracy cannot be imposed and cannot be taught. Democracy has to be chosen by citizens. People have to choose to be free, even if this requires suffering and many challenges. Socialists and Democrats have to act as a guide along the way of the democratic path. The guide has to show the steps in front of each citizen, but it has not to force citizens on the path. The Copenhagen Criteria should be strengthened in this direction, by making democracy more tangible and meaningful to each European citizen.

Since 1993 the Copenhagen criteria establish the conditions for membership in the European Union. These countries need to have: – stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for protection of minorities – a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU – the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. These criteria reflect the values of the European Union that every new country should comply with. Values like democracy, equality, freedom, solidarity and diversity form the core of the European Union and they shouldn’t be negotiable. Unfortunately, in recent years we have been seeing that some EU countries aren’t complying with some of the values they swore to defend. In Poland and Hungary right-wing governments with authoritarian and populist characteristics are undermining the democratic institutions there including, the judicial system. In Turkey, a country that wants to join the EU, a similar authoritarian streak is happening with political opponents behind jail and freedoms suppressed. Anti-democratic forces are also arising in other regions of the globe like in Brazil. In addition to this, several European countries are choosing the ignore the millions of migrants that try to reach the Mediterranean shores. Europe faces now unprecedented challenges like the large influx of migrants, the economic difficulties in certain countries (that include a rise in inequality and in poverty), the emergence of populism and extremism inside our own borders and climate and environmental changes that put our ecosystems and even our own lives at risk. European Union should be able to address and face these challenges while presenting a united front that is able to give all European citizens a decent living standard while maintain intact the European values that gave Europe its biggest period of prosperity and peace in history. In order to do this, it’s of paramount importance to be tougher with the member states or potential candidates whose policies go against the European values and to listen more to what the European citizens have to say including the ones that are critical of the EU. Better integration is required to regain the trust of these people in the European institutions. Because most of these challenges that Europe faces are global, It is also important for EU to use its privileged position in the international stage to build bridges with other countries in order to find common solutions for those problems, defend democracy and to help their social and economic development.

Living in a democratic regime give us the opportunity of expressing ourselves without fearing persecution for doing it. Democracies should also have separation of powers, respect human rights and promote the active civic and political participation of all its citizens. In my country (Portugal), the memory of the Estado Novo dictatorship that lasted from 1933 until 1974 and the political arrests, poverty and war in Africa, that it brought still lives in many people’s minds. When in 1986, Portugal entered in European union the country entered a new era of development and progress and that is why here, democratic institutions are widely respected just like the European Union itself. Nowadays, democracy is consolidated in Portugal and the country is recovering well from the crisis and a hard Austerity program supported by the former right-wing government, however unfortunately that is not the case in other parts of Europe in which democracy is under threat, with anti-democratic and far-right forces rising up not just in Poland and Hungary, were they hold the government, but also in Germany, Austria, Italy or France. These forces are a threat to progress and European values because they don’t respect the rights of minorities and political opponents promoting a divided society in which people start distrusting or even hating each other for differences like gender, race or religion. This strategy may be pure demagogy but it is effective because their anti-establishment and anti-EU speech is shifting many working class people from left wing parties (socialists or social democrats) towards those right-wing populists or even far-right parties. That is why it is of paramount importance for S&D parties to regain the support of the working class in those countries because they are the key to keep the far-right out of the power and to ultimately save democracy in the EU.

6 days, 17 hours ago in What does Democracy mean to you?
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Instead of showing only worry and anxiety in connection with far-right populism, we have to step up with braveness, a clear message and program for the people, making it sure that we represent the alternative. Masses do not want to belong to and vote for the worrying side but the strong and confident side, and far-right is doing everything to make itself look strong and confident. We have to communicate the merits and the accomplishments we have done lately. This is what Bernie Sanders is doing in the United States. He supports labor unions and represents the interests of the employees on a daily basis, making a previously never seen left-wing tendency overseas. Labor unions are getting stronger in the USA and Sanders keeps on communicating the achievements that left-wing tendency is achieving. We need a strong social partnership between left-wing parties and civil organizations, to fuse politics with the everyday life of the people and solve the problems on ordinary level. This is what makes left-wing politics popular, when we show up very specific, very concrete achievements that people can connect with their everyday life and feel they can benefit from it. Crabbing far-right and generalities are not enough. We have to communicate our accomplishments, the positive results of the left-wing governments and our future prospects that people can feel the direct benefit of. Supporting labor unions is a key. Representing the rights of the employees is a key. We have to show up that we represent the interests of the many instead of the few. Only those countries should join the European Union in the future that respect labor rights and developed working conditions. Some EU members do not respect these values and it has to be sanctioned. The European Union does not sanction those members that clearly break the common and written values of our democratic community and it should have consequences. Far-right politics in the EU smells that it is not sanctioned, this is why they are getting more and more unashamed and unscrupulous. Only those members should receive money from the common pool of the EU that respect and apply the common and written conventions. It is nonsense that the European Union is still funding those members that openly go against our common, democratic values and destroy the rights of the employees. The rights of the labor unions, paid overtimes, maximum 40 hours work per week and receiving a fair share of the corporate welfare by he employees should be ultimate criteria. In my opinion, the Copenhagen criteria has to get a continuity and should not be forgotten just because a country joined the EU. All the members have to be monitored if they stick with the application of the common conventions and criteria. Copenhagen criteria should not only be fulfilled during the time of the accession negotiations for a country that wants to join the EU. The fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria should be applied after the accession to the EU as well and it has to be monitored continuously. Those member states that do not meet the criteria should be sanctioned and should not receive money from the common pool of the EU. In my opinion, guarantees of the rights of the employees have to play a significant role in the criteria of a country to join the EU and they have to be kept after the accession as well. Stepping up for the interests of the employees, communicating our accomplishments and sanction anti-democratic governments are the key factors of the future of the left-wing and the entire European Union as well.

Coming from Poland, a country that for the last couple of years has been exposed to many threats to democracy, there are some issues worrying me the most. However, now I’d like to focus on the case of free media. Currently our main, nationwide media outlets either openly support the Law and Justice party (including public media) or the Civic Coalition (centre-right coalition of Civic Platform and “Nowoczesna” parties), which is the biggest oppositional movement at the moment. People are therefore exposed to the propaganda from one of two “possible” options, both right-leaning, not representing what we call European values. There is literally no place for the left in the Polish nationwide media. The issue becomes even more serious when it comes to the elections – the media which support Civic Coalition convince the citizens that voting for the left can only boost Law and Justice’s chances for a success. Hence, they openly call voting for the left “a waste of a vote” or “a hidden vote for the Law and Justice”. As media outlets are still perceived as a trustworthy source, citizens resign from supporting the left in the elections. Two weeks ago during local-government elections, many of my friends decided to vote for the Civic Coalitions instead because of the impact media had on them. Currently, the leftists are discussing if it is even possible for the progressive Robert Biedroń, who is supported by many Polish citizens, to succeed in the upcoming Parliamentary elections without the support from nationwide media. If the left is really considering something like this, it can only mean that the world has gone too far. We need free media, not friendly-to-one-party-only-media! In this scenario, where you cannot become the real power on the political scene without the media support, there will be no place for new political movements and what’s even worse – we’ll be drowning in an even deeper crisis.

The threat of new autoritarian goverments is real. We saw it with the elections in Brazil. Brazil chose to become a liberal (economy) and conservative (ideology) state. It happens because by the time the left was in the goverment there were corruption scandals that blinded all the social achievements made by the left for the people. I was born in Brazil. I see that the major concern of the people is about security and corruption, and the alt-right seizes this opportunity to impose privatizations ,less rights for workers using the conservatorism as a cover of verticality. They use the technique of the nazis , blame the left for all the bad that the world has. So how we can save our people of these mistakes? The only way is trough credibility. We need to remember history everyday. We need to show all the achievements that the left has made and still does for people’s lives and democracy. We need to show that the left of today is not the communism of the past. And we need young influencers to do this job. People are not very open to mainstream opinion makers anymore, they want the menssage from people they can relate with. This is why new movements grow so fast, because they are made with simple people. We need to start a battle using knowledge, history, our achievements and our proposals. And the new proposals must show why solidarity is good for economy, freedoom and happiness for all. And we can never forget about working people! Those people, the working class, are the most important at the moment. If we forget, then they will forget our legacy of fight for a better world .

1 week, 6 days ago in What does Democracy mean to you?
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Information is essential for an active democracy, citizens must be informed about the past, the present and the future Rousseau who, in the Social Contract (1762) had launched the famous accusation against the English representative regime (but valid in general): The British believe they are free. In reality, they are only once every four years when they elect their representatives in Parliament. For the rest, they are slaves of those who have elected. While some people are frustrated and staying at home on election day trust me other people vote. But here’s the problem, democracy continues with or without you. They’re are voting in every election, from city council to parliament, because the people who are voting know the impact to that the leaders that they pick can have on every single part of our lives. When you don’t vote, you letting other people make some really key decision about the life you’re going to live the place you’re going to live how it’s going and what that will decide for you. You’re just saying that you do it! And you may not like what they decide. You may not like living with the consequences of others’ choices. But that’s what happened when you’re home and do not go to vote. You are essential to put your future in the hands of others. And the truth is, some people hope you’ll do it. Voting is not difficult, it doesn’t take long, it’s just a few minutes, it’s so easy, the only way to make a change in this country is to go out and vote for the change you’re looking for. Vote, no matter who you vote for. Voting means participation and being involved in this. Your vote can make the difference, it will do absolutely. Remember that the election can be decided by 10 votes 20 votes, sometimes it is only a small margin. And people believe that they need millions and millions of votes. No. It is not for the leader you choose, the power of our democracy is in us. The person you are looking for is standing in your shoes, you are the person who can save you from this. We are our heroes, we are our leaders who do not change. And it does not matter that those who want to manage our vote are above us!

2 weeks, 3 days ago in What does Democracy mean to you?
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In the beginning of this post I feel it important to state, that we cannot identify the mindset of the Hungarian government with the mindset of the people of Hungary. They don’t approve the antidemocratic actions of the government. And this is the point when you could ask…”the why do you vote for them?” It is a fact that the party of Viktor Orbán (Fidesz) is in power for 8 years by now despite the fact, that three elections were held since then…The problem is, which is both the source of the weak performances and growth of the opposition parties and the people believing the lies of the government, that there are no more than a handful of independent media products in Hungary. Since most of the printed and broadcasted media products are owned by either the goverment or oligarchs close to the governing parties, most of the people among lower social classes can’t reach any source of independent media, they can only inform themselves from the government’s propaganda, which produces nothing but fake news. This way the government can manipulate dozens of people, and make it nearly impossible for the opposition to appear in any kind of media. Therefore, one of the few things the EU, or any aspiring state could do in favor of the Hungarian democracy and people, moreover for the whole EU is, to finance the remaining independent sources of media in Hungary to even the odds regarding the distribution of fake news and real news. This way the EU (or specifically any country which desires) could gain more influence in Hungary and would weaken the position of the government and also help the struggling opposition a great deal. Which takes me to the next point… The opposition in Hungary is fragmented and divided. (For now let’s just focus on the left wing parties) The major left wing party the so called Hungarian “Socialist” Party (MSZP) (Which is a member of S&D) is discredited and widely rejected because of it’s neoliberal governing and past scandals. The party lacks any kind of political innovation and is rejected by not only the majority of voters, but also by the left wing supporters. On the other hand the smaller left wing parties, which have trustworthy politicians and true left wing programs can’t break in to first line politics because of the lack of money and appearance in mainstream media. That is why, from my point of view the S&D Group should focus more on managing their members, helping them and in the times of need encourage them to learn from other members. In my opinion our parties would profit really much from sharing experiences with practices with successful fellow members of the S&D Group such as the Swedish Social Democratic Party or the Portugal Socialist Party. As I mentioned exchanging experiences and learning new practices would be really useful we can’t forget to mention that the S&D Group (or again any country which seeks to gain influence, or interested in having a west minded democratic Hungary) could also finance the innovative and promising but yet weak left wing parties of Hungary. Whereas forming opinion and criticizing the processes in Hungary is necessary, forming a unit and acting together as I proposed above would help to solve our common problem more easily, thus helping both our common cause in Europe as well as freeing Hungary from it’s current wannabe dictator.

2 weeks, 3 days ago in Hungary
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Profile photo of Balazs Balazs

Democracy means to me that everybody is involved and has a chance to take part in making decisions, on certain levels of the society. People should not be frozen out of taking part in making decisions, modern democracy cannot be elitist to let decisions be only made by privileged circles. Masses have to be involved, we have to reduce the distance between masses and decision makers at the highest levels. Democracy has to be formed to be as direct as it is possible, decision makers have to keep a constant contact with ordinary people, the voice of the people. This is how everyday problems can be solved, when everyday problems can be communicated via a constant channel between politics and the masses. This is how the information of the existence of problems can be delivered to decision makers efficiently and problems can be solved as soon as possible. Most of the voters care about the everyday problems. This is why left-wing has to make local levels of the democracy stronger. Supporting trade unions and civil organizations is inevitable. By supporting trade unions, we can step up for the rights and the interests of the employees and can accomplish social achievements. Going local and dealing with the everyday problems of the people, involving people to politics and letting them raising their voice will help us to solve problems, to make democracy stronger and to make people believe in democracy by providing the opportunity for them to be involved. I firmly believe that making democracy more direct and social will make people trust and appreciate the democratic values much more, since they experience that they can take part in it and they can add their voice. This is the alternative of the far-right politics that is only about identity politics without really caring about the everyday problems of the people. Supporting trade unions and civil organizations is thriving. For instance, unions are keeping on fighting out their demands in the United States lately, from teachers’ unions across the country to Disneyland workers, NYC airport workers, hotel workers in Chicago etc. Bernie Sanders gives a huge boost to this tendency, encouraging people to form unions, helping and stepping up for them, making more and more people believe in social democracy, making progressive tendencies unstoppable as an alternative of the politics of Trump. This is the way in my opinion, representing the interests of the employees, the solution of the everyday problems of the people, going local, initiating communication and channels between politics and people, being active on local levels, in local governments, supporting trade unions and civil organizations. I believe that this is the alternative of far-right based on only hate and identity politics.

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