While a (rather small) part of the world is approaching the mostly western yearly festive season and people are evaluating the past year, I, too, look back and assess my personal achievements, but also what we have accomplished as a society. Did we grow, or did we fail? Did we make our society more equal, free, just, sustainable, and green? Have we stood up strongly enough for our democracies?
Personally, I find the last question particularly important as we have been witnessing a systematic and dangerous deterioration of civil liberties and democratic values around the world. Hence, the US Summit for Democracy at the end of this week is rather timely. Although the aim of “renewing democracy at home and confronting autocracies abroad” is admirable, some participating countries raise questions, including whether the US should (still) be conducting the world orchestra of countries that share common democratic values.
As an EU politician for over a decade, my main drive and motivation remain the same. I consider myself a strong supporter and advocate for respecting the highest standards defining democracy and the rule of law by defending human rights and freedoms, social inclusion, equality and media freedom at the core of it. In the past years, we have been through several crises that affected the stability of our societies and democracies. Be it the global financial crisis of 2008, the significant migration flows of 2015/16, or the most recent one, the world pandemic. The resulting destabilisation has created a space for the rise of authoritarianism. Its harmful policies are causing divisions and threatening the rule of law and independent institutions. And the rise of fake news poses the most significant danger to our democracies to date.
To defend them we need to act now. Time is running out. We are in dangerous waters, and we need to get more serious about defending our democracies, the foundation on which, after all, the European Union was also built on.
US president Joe Biden’s virtual summit is a good opportunity for more than 100 world leaders, civil society, and private sector representatives to meet and find solutions for today’s challenges. “No democracy is perfect, and no democracy is ever final”, were the words of President Biden that I think should echo during the summit and reach every single leader. If the aim is to provide a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights, a sincere discussion has to be conducted first. The summit should notably hold a mirror to certain countries, and the leaders should not turn a blind eye to the ongoing attempts for democratic backsliding in many parts of the world, including the West.
I believe democracies of many participating countries, whose leaders will be participating, require our special attention: countries like India, Brazil, the Philippines, Serbia, but also, for example, Poland. The country that is, together with Hungry, one of the most problematic EU member states, and persistently violates common EU democratic values.
I cannot help but wonder by what standards does Poland belong on the list of invitees, while Hungary was – fairly – left out? My concern is that the summit may give the mentioned controversial leaders even more wind into the sails of their sinking boats. Therefore, I hope for strong political messages from the US administration and concrete commitments from the Polish government to finally ‘sail’ towards more a pro-democratic society.
As we are waiting and hoping for a successful outcome of the summit to set (out) a strong base for a global democratic renewal, one thing is clear: we are at a historic crossroads where I strongly encourage everyone to decide for unity and solidarity, peace and democracy. We can achieve this by listening to each other and understanding each other’s views. A clear commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the defence of human rights and freedoms. With tolerance, openness, mutual respect, and the protection of the most vulnerable. This is what I wish for all of us in the upcoming year(s). And to stay healthy!
Photo credits: furtseff/Shutterstock