The biggest threats to our unity

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.
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The fact that the freedom of the press is under attack in not just Poland, but a number of countries, and journalists’ safety is in danger in the EU in 2018 is, frankly, one of our biggest failures in recent years. Daphne Caruana Galizia’s and Ján Kuciak’s murders are notably low-points in our Union’s recent history. We should endeavour to do far more to create and nurture a healthy media climate throughout our Union; where unbiased and diverse can flourish and situations like the one you outlined in Poland is contained and solved as soon as possible.

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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.

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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.

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