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.