How do Europeans feel about the health of EU democracy? Better than they have for the past 15 years, according to a poll by the European Commission.
The first Eurobarometer survey of public opinion in the EU since European Parliament elections in May paints a rosy picture of sentiment across the bloc — with a few notable exceptions.
Overall, 55 per cent of respondents say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU, the highest level since 2004. That is the majority view in all but one member state: Greece. (Others nations on the gloomy end of the spectrum include France and, you guessed it, Britain.)
The survey shows that people living in countries with Eurosceptic populist governments do not necessarily share the views of their leaders. In Poland, 70 per cent of respondents are satisfied with EU democracy. In Hungary, the figure is 63 per cent.
Meanwhile, a majority of respondents in 20 out of 28 member states agree that their voice counts in the EU. Of the eight countries where a majority of people disagree, Greece again comes top, followed by Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Italy and Britain.
Other notable findings of the poll include the revelation that climate change is now Europeans’ second-biggest concern after immigration, outstripping economic issues and terrorism in the hierarchy of worries.
And more than six in 10 Europeans are optimistic about the future of the EU, the highest level since 2009. The Irish, Danes, Lithuanians, Poles and Dutch are the most optimistic. The biggest pessimists are the Greeks, Brits, French, Czechs and Italians.
Selective memory in Croatia
If an honest reckoning with the past is an indicator of democratic health, the European Union’s youngest member shows signs of ailing. Three stories published by BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice platform highlight the pitfalls of selective amnesia in Croatia.
Nikola Vukobratovic reports on a campaign by right-wing nationalists to whitewash the history of concentration camps for children run by Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustasa regime during World War II. Historians estimate that tens of thousands of children of anti-fascists, Serbs and Roma were interred in the camps.
And Anja Vladisavljevic reports on the “one-sided history” taught in school textbooks of the Croatian Army’s 1995 victory in Operation Storm, which saw the government reassert control over an unrecognised statelet of rebel Croatian Serbs.
While all Croatian schoolchildren learn about the victory that led to the end of the war for independence, few are taught about the Serb civilian victims killed during and just after the operation, or the many Serbs who left Croatia in its aftermath.
Meanwhile, Croatia’s ombudsperson has condemned police inaction after members of a former paramilitary unit that fought in Operation Storm shouted a World War II fascist-era slogan at an annual commemoration of the victory, Vladisavljevic reports.
What else we learned this week…
Here are 10 other things we learned of interest to democracy watchers in Central and Southeast Europe.
Poland will hold parliamentary elections on October 13.
We knew an election was in the offing for the autumn but the Polish president’s office has now confirmed the date. Polls suggest the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is firm favourite to win.
Expect LGBT rights to be a battleground issue as the populist PiS steps up rhetoric portraying Poland as a nation under attack from dangerous “foreign” ideologies.
But Poland’s parliament speaker won’t be taking part.
That is because he resigned on Thursday following a scandal that has undermined PiS claims to be tough on corruption. Marek Kuchcinski quit after Polish media revealed he and family members had used a government jet for private trips.
The flights cost taxpayers a cool four million zloty (925,000 euros), according to Onet.pl (in Polish), a popular news portal.
Independent journalism is alive and well in Slovakia.
Most of Slovakia’s major media outlets are in the hands of oligarchs or politicians, but a few holdouts are keeping the flame of journalistic independence alive, Miroslava Germanova writes for Reporting Democracy.
As powerful magnates and populist politicians build up their media portfolios, the digital age has opened up new channels of defence for journalists in a country still reeling from the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak last year.
“The Internet helps so that the press freedom isn’t completely threatened,” says Peter Bardy, editor-in-chief of Aktuality.sk, the news website where Kuciak worked. “It turns out that besides giving space to various conspiracy and disinformation websites, it also gives space to good journalists who don’t want to work for financial groups and oligarchs.”
Trump’s ‘role model’ is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
At least that is the view of David M. Driesen, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, expressed in a commentary based on research for his forthcoming book, The Spectre of Dictatorship and Judicial Enabling of Presidential Power.
“Trump and his advisers evidently have learned a great deal from Orban about racist immigration policies and how to destroy a democracy,” he writes. “They are not making America great or even good; they are making it Hungarian.”
Zoltan Kovacs, Hungarian state secretary for international communications, called the commentary baseless, although he says Trump and Orban “both bring a voice of reason to the debate about migration” and both insist that “security and prosperity of our own citizens take first priority”, according to Hungary Today.
Hungary’s plan to fight depopulation has a nationalist tinge.
Hungary’s new Family Protection Action Plan will provide tax and financial incentives to encourage families to have children in the face of a falling birth rate and rising emigration. But according to one labour expert, it has as much to do with making nationalism as making babies.
“It’s not only a family support programme but part of a ‘nation-building’ agenda,” Katalin Kevehazi, President of the Budapest-based JOL-LET (Well-Being) Foundation, tells Edit Inotai in an interview for Reporting Democracy.
She adds: “In my interpretation, this family protection programme is part of a universal policy agenda that strengthens traditional values, promotes big families, maintains the existing hierarchy in society and enhances the number of [ruling party] Fidesz loyalists.”
Romania is bracing for a huge protest on Saturday.
August 10 is the first anniversary of a massive protest in Bucharest’s Victory Square in which demonstrators, fed up with endemic corruption, tried to storm the government building. Riot police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds, injuring more than 400 people.
The outcry over the clashes has turned the date into a red letter day on the Romanian calendar, and all eyes will be on Budapest on Saturday. Tens of thousands are expected to march, reports Marcel Gascon Barbera for Balkan Insight.
In May, Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, was jailed for corruption. And in recent days, two ministers have lost their jobsfollowing public outrage over allegations that police failed to respond quickly to distress calls made by a 15-year-old who was abducted, raped and killed.
Bosnia’s de facto prime minister wants to have it both ways.
Denis Zvizdic, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the de facto state government, this week took over as speaker of the House of Representatives in the state parliament as well, alarming critics.
“This is an unreal situation, but it is real in Bosnia — that the same person is in charge of both the executive and legislative branches,” Vehid Sehic, a political analyst and former president of the Bosnian Central Election Commission, told BIRN.
“This violates the constitutional principle that the legislature should exercise control over the executive. But this is Bosnia, so everything is possible here. I do not know that there is another example of this anywhere in Europe.”
Albanian diaspora may soon find it easier to get citizenship.
A draft law on citizenship adopted by the Albanian government, due to be approved by parliament, will allow Albanians living abroad to acquire Albanian citizenship more easily, Balkan Insight reports.
The move could open the door to large numbers of people who can prove their ancestors had Albanian nationality. This is a hot topic given the country’s huge diaspora community in the Balkans and beyond.
Of a total of 4.5 million Albanian citizens, the current resident population of the country is estimated at only 2.8 million, meaning that at least 1.7 million Albanian citizens live abroad.
A maverick TV host is launching a new party in Bulgaria.
Slavi Trifonov, a Bulgarian TV host and singer, will launch a new political movement and his own TV station next month in a bid to push forward changes made to the political system backed in a 2016 referendum, which Bulgaria’s parliament has since ignored.
The new party will be called “No such state”, referring to a slang phrase in Bulgarian that signifies popular dissatisfaction with the governing institutions in the country. It is also the title of one of his songs.
Trifonov’s goal is to implement the results of a referendum that asked voters if subsidies to political parties should be cut, compulsory voting should be introduced and a move should be made towards a majoritarian system of electing lawmakers.
Critics are second-guessing Moldova’s commitment to judicial reform.
Controversial appointments to key security and judiciary posts in Moldova have raised doubts about the government’s ability to depoliticise state institutions following the departure from power of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party, writes Madalin Necsutu for Balkan Insight(paywall).
Under Plahotniuc, Moldova was a “captured state”, with courts, police and media all in his pocket, according to the current governing alliance, which has promised a root-and-branch overhaul of the justice system.
But after two months in power, critics point to a spate of appointments involving people closely connected to the Socialist Party, a partner in the alliance, as proof the party is acting in the same vein.