June 8. 2023. 10:22

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Europe’s next illiberal democracy

Editor’s Take: Europe’s next illiberal democracy

Everybody was surprised by the crushing victory of Kyriakos Mitsotakis at last week’s Greek elections, where he routed his nemesis Alexis Tsipras, while Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s other key leader in the fightback against Greece’s EU bailout, failed to get into Parliament.

With over 40% of the vote to Syriza’s 20%, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy scored nothing less than a landslide, even if it still faces a struggle to form a viable majority in parliament and a second electoral round in June.

The answer from the Greek people at this election was that better economic performance and more stability were far more important than the fact that democratic freedoms in the country are eroding.

It’s not only in Greece that we are seeing these trends. Respect for the rule of law and human rights does not win votes across most of Europe.

The Mitsotakis government had certainly endured plenty of scandals in recent weeks and months.

The most recent: The violent pushback of migrants reported by The New York Times, which has been played down by the European Commission and the Greek government but is emblematic of a pattern of systematic violation of laws by national officials. It is a pattern that is being replicated across Europe, the Council of Europe said recently.

Together with that, there has been a spyware scandal revealing the government to be spying on opposition lawmakers and journalists, a deadly train crash that exposed major administrative and regulatory shortcomings, as well as the erosion of press freedom in the country.

Indeed, the state of media freedom in Greece was described by Reporters Without the Borders in an interview with EURACTIV as “worse than Hungary”.

However, these scandals did not drive the election results. More security, stability, and tough measures on migration are the direction all parties (even those more left-wing) are going if they want to be in office.

Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party is now almost certain to win an outright majority in the Greek parliament at the second round of elections on 25 June, and that unfettered grip on power could put more pressure on democratic freedoms, civil society and the press.

Greece ranked the worst among the 27 EU member states, according to the World Press Freedom Index for 2022.

Last month, MEPs on the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee warned that there were severe concerns about “very serious threats” to the rule of law and fundamental rights in Greece, pointing to harassment of officials of independent public bodies, and widespread intimidation of journalists.

So while Mitsotakis and New Democracy can celebrate their win, Greek democracy is in danger of earning an unwanted place on the EU’s watch list as the next ‘illiberal democracy’.


New dawn for New Democracy. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis won a resounding victory in Sunday’s general elections after his New Democracy confounded opinion polls by taking over 40% of the vote, double the 20% obtained by the leftist opposition Syriza party. New Democracy now appears likely to secure a parliamentary majority allowing it to govern alone in the second round on 25 June.

Traffic light coalition in a jam. Infighting in the German government escalated on Wednesday (24 May) when the liberal FDP opposed the Green-led Economy Ministry’s flagship legislation that sets minimum renewable targets for new heating systems, which was entering parliament for discussion.

Gabriel forms rotating government. Former EU commissioner Mariya Gabriel is forming a new Bulgarian government as part of a complex political agreement with her centre-right GERB party’s arch-foes – the reformist ‘We continue the change’ party of former prime minister Kiril Petkov. The deal will see the two parties rotate prime ministers for a period of nine months each, and Gabriel start as deputy prime minister.

Warsaw in the red. The European Commission has sent Poland six formal notices to pay fines totalling €174 million for failing to comply with the EU Court of Justice’s decision requiring the government in Warsaw to dismantle the controversial Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court.

Portugal to request more recovery cash. The Portuguese government is set to formally request €3.3 billion in additional loans under the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), the European Commission announced on Wednesday (24 May).

Inside the institutions

‘No registration, no access’. Lobbyists and NGOs must be registered on the EU’s transparency register before participating as invited guests or co-host events in the European Parliament, according to a decision adopted by the Parliament’s leadership earlier this week.

Pension fund in crisis. The European Parliament plans to cut by 50% its pensions programme for former lawmakers in a bid to reduce the pension fund’s deficit from €310 million to €86 million.

Don’t cut the budget. The European Commission should not accept national demands to cut the EU budget, said Siegfried Mureșan, the European Parliament’s spokesperson on the 2024 budget, as discussions develop on whether to revise the EU’s long-term budget approach.

Talking about the EU elections. What policies will be at the heart of their electoral campaigns? Are they going to have a Spitzenkandidat? EURACTIV asked these questions and others to the presidents of the political groups in the European Parliament ahead of next June’s European elections, in a series of video interviews.

What we are reading

Carlos Lopes argues that the EU’s new carbon levy could be used to drive reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and boost African economies in Project Syndicate.

National Conservatism claims to speak for ordinary people. Yet those same ordinary people are often far more liberal than they are, writes Kathleen Stock Unherd.

Syriza did worse than most thought possible, despite a series of prime ministerial scandals and widespread poverty, writes Marina Prentoulis in the Guardian.

The next week in politics

Europe’s liberal and centre parties gather in Stockholm for the ALDE congress, while Socialist parties hold their own summit on social policy.

Meanwhile, MEPs return to Brussels next week for a two-day ‘mini plenary’ session in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday (1-2 June)

In the EU Council, agriculture and general affairs ministers meet on Tuesday (30 May), while the following day Moldova hosts the next summit of the European Political Community, the nascent organisation bringing together leaders from inside and outside the EU.

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Read more with EURACTIV

EU presses Poland to pay fines in disciplinary chamber standoff

EU presses Poland to pay fines in disciplinary chamber standoff

In today’s edition of the Capitals, find out more about the German Greens warning of an impending government crisis, Russia sharply criticising Oslo for letting the world’s largest warship in its waters, and so much more.

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