THE COPENHAGEN CRITERIA. FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY!

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The Copenhagen Statement

THE COPENHAGEN CRITERIA – FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY!

This year, we celebrate 25 years since the establishment of the Copenhagen criteria. The Copenhagen criteria marked a milestone in European history as they set out the essential conditions that all countries must satisfy before becoming a member state of our Union. Essentially, they require stable institutions that can unequivocally guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. The values found in the Copenhagen criteria form the very foundation of our free, tolerant and just European society.

The Copenhagen criteria lay the foundation for an open, free and united European Union. The entire EU legal order is premised on countries being full democracies. In other words, our European communities are based on three fundamental pillars: democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. These three pillars hold our European project in place. They work together and in parallel.

At the same time, as the Copenhagen criteria continue to provide the framework, guidance and inspiration for the EU’s enlargement policy, people are being confronted with a world-wide wave of anti-democratic backlash. For instance, under President Trump, US democratic principles have reached their lowest support in decades. Not only does Mr Trump continue to attack, circumvent and ridicule the free press but he also appears completely indifferent to democracy’s global fate.
The main elements of this messaging align closely with the playbook of authoritarian strongmen who are gaining ground globally.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are among humanity’s the biggest achievements. With us in Europe, they have been the foundation on which we have built strong welfare states.  We build our social and inclusive societies on these values. Those open societies that others now try to tear down.
In Poland, for instance, the Law and Justice party has systematically undermined checks and balances, and the proper functioning of independent institutions. The authorities have curbed media freedom turning public media into a crude party propaganda organ. Another startling example of democratic decline can be found in Hungary, where the Fidesz Government of Viktor Orbán used a large parliamentary majority to make it extremely difficult for the courts to keep its powers in check. Electoral boundaries have been re-drawn in favour of the ruling party and Incumbent officials have been removed to make way for Fidesz loyalists, who have facilitated the rise of what Orbán calls “illiberal” democracy and what we can only call “partial democracy”.

What makes “partial democracy” a particularly dangerous phenomenon is that it is a form of authoritarianism born within the framework of real democracy. The path away from democracy is seldom paved by blatant violations of the rule of law, but rather by borderline actions that systematically erode and undermine legality and the rule of law. Under this “partial democracy”, countries barricade themselves from the world, which in turn becomes an excuse for intolerance, exclusion and dangerous nationalistic populism. This generates deep mistrust of the European institutions, boosting a distorted narrative where Europe is the scapegoat for all possible evils.

However, enough is enough! The enemies of pluralism and decency are trying to move away from our solid European model of democracy one-step at the time. We will not allow that! Protecting the integrity of our democracy is our daily concern, and we do that by acting. By working every day for more just, equal and free societies through the policies we promote, locally, nationally and in the European Union.
While our democracy is based on compromise, nationalism and extremism are based on polarisation. The winner-takes-it-all mentality says: we are right and you are wrong. Therefore, you have no right to speak. Populists are determined to undermine the open democratic fabric of our European society. By claiming to be the only true representatives of the people, they treat political rivals as enemies of the people, rather than party-political opponents. We will never tolerate this!

We progressives are very proud of our democracies! Democracies that show respect for those who have lost in fair elections. In a real democracy, the minority – or opposition, is just as essential to the proper functioning of that democracy, as the majority – or ruling party. We, the progressives, will not tolerate right-wing populists transforming democracy from an instrument of inclusion into one of exclusion.
To guard our democracies, we must take decisive steps. We will not succumb to silence and a sense of business-as-usual. The European Parliament has shown that it is not afraid, by voting by an overwhelming majority to censure the Hungarian government for eroding democracy and failing to uphold fundamental European Union values. Every European citizen has the right to live in a functioning democracy, and we will always fight to protect it. Real functioning democracies can never work just partially!

Together we must:

– Ensure that the Copenhagen criteria continue to be the bedrock of European democracy for all member states to uphold,

Stand firmly behind a strong European democracy. We must fight relentlessly against any government’s attempts to take-over its judicial system and override its democratic procedures. We must equally fight against governments that threaten independent institutions and seek to fuse the ruling party with the state,

Be ready to act when the rule of law is under threat. We must always protect media freedom and the separation of powers, and we must rebuke without compromise any attacks on our independent civil society in whatever shape,

Develop and implement tough sanctions, to deter from governments attempting to make “reforms” which run counter to the rule of law. We need to find new ways to defend our democracy. One way would be to link compliance with the rule of law and budgetary sanctions, making sure that any sanctions hit those who are responsible.

Relentlessly defend human rights and strengthen the protection of political, religious, sexual and other minorities throughout the Union,

Ensure support for academics to allow them to work without restriction, and protect Civil Society Organizations who bravely continue to fight for fair European societies.

Now, a quarter of a century after the Copenhagen criteria were established we need them more than ever. Together we fight for more democracy, not less!

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Debate



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.

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.

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.

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