Democracy is in our culture, in our air: We breathe democracy!

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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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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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.

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