eurasian-unionOn Sunday, Russian voters went to the polls to confirm Vladimir Putin as their President for the next 6 years. International observers, however, have reported “serious problems” that left the results “never in doubt”. This latest election comes on the back of parliamentary elections in December of last year that were also criticised by international monitors and saw mass protests reminiscent of similar protest movements in the Arab world.

Debating Europe recently spoke to Nikolai, one of our commenters, on Skype. He told us he’d  like to know whether the Russian elections were truly free and fair and, if they weren’t, why isn’t the EU putting more pressure on Russsia? We put this comment to Renate Weber, a Romanian lawyer, human rights activist and an MEP for the National Liberal Party, to get her reaction:

The Liberals in the European Parliament voted on this matter and ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt was extremely tough on the issue of the parliamentary elections in Russia. In fact, I dare say it was a majority of MEPs who were really very, very unhappy with how the parliamentary elections were held in Russia and also with what is happening in the presidential elections, where potential candidates were simply not allowed to run.

Of course, the European Union is more than just the Parliament, and a decision must be made not only by the Parliament but also by the Commission and endorsed by the Council, and I’m afraid the EU as a whole has offered some criticism but not as tough as that expressed by MEPs. And, of course, within the Council there are countries that would cynically prefer not to touch the issue of Russia.

The Russian elections seem to be the latest in a long line of stories showing democracy on the back-foot in Europe. For example, we’ve been having a debate recently on the controversial issue of the new Hungarian constitution. Many of the comments we received were highly critical, including this one from Sebestyén from Hungary who argues the new constitution is “destroying the democratic institutions of our country“. How would you respond?

I have been, on behalf of the ALDE group, among the most vocal critics of the situation in Hungary. The new media law that was discussed last year, for example, has still not been properly addressed. The government of Hungary made some cosmetic changes, but the entire system of overwhelming restraint remains in place.

One aspect that is very worrisome is that the Fidesz party has used its two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament to amend a number of cardinal laws, allowing it to cement policies in place for decades to come. The European Commission has started proceedings investigating, but it should have involved the European Fundamental Rights Charter with Article 2. So far, they haven’t gone in this direction.

What do YOU think? How should the EU respond to the Russian elections amidst widespread criticism from international monitors? Are we facing a “crisis of democracy” in Europe to match our sovereign debt and banking crises? And is there more that can be done by other institutions, such as the Council of Europe, to protect democracy? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts to get their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Bohan Shen

30 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Jefolo Bezdo

    Russia is a sandbox for democracy where transparency is actually more superior to that of the west because of its democratic infancy. In Russia, the government takes advantage of the citizens’ good nature less than they do, say, in America but Putin doesn’t hide his semi-imperial intentions behind PR machines and superficial promises; he just goes ahead and does it without “manufacturing” consent as they do in they west.
    I really can’t say which method of oppression is worse: knowing that you are being exploited and oppressed, or being exploited and oppressed and thinking you are free…

  2. Albert Saxén

    lol
    Philip although the terminating ..
    Miguel , true ..altho the generations of..
    Otto von Habsburg had seen totalitarianism. Were immune to it
    Jeffrey, true, it is a hybrid democracy.
    There is corruption , i have said, it just is weaved into, part of the fabric

  3. Lata Gouveia

    Good excuse to debate the issue of democracy, but bad example. Consider the power and influence of corporate lobbying in Western “Democracies”. Consider the erosion of sovereignty caused not by the EU but by the financial sector and consider how much the Russian standards of living have increased since they got rid of the old drunk… All it will ever take is a few people screaming “fall play” for us to assume that guys like Putin and Chaves don’t have the support of an absolute majority. If the West doesn’t like them, they are dictators. How about looking at our own democratic deficits before lecturing others?

    • Waleska

      I don’t think you should be worierd about the passport thing. Especially if your daughter is an American citizen. What you should consider is how much you trust your wife about letting your daughter go with her, while you stay behind. If that’s okay, then no worries!

  4. Dennis Baltzis

    We should first started to concern about the democracy crisis inside EU and let the other countries and people decide their own fate.

  5. Ioannis Toumpas

    “Respond” (?), some countries are still allowed to have elections while some others (within EU) are not…we should congratulate them!

  6. Scott Lewis

    I assume you meant Chavez? Do you really want to compare real elections to dictatorships?

  7. Nikolai Holmov

    The EU should recognise that there were flaws in the elections and the electoral process.

    That said, there are flaws and violations in any election process in any nation and a violation can simply be a matter of leaving a candidates photograph on the wall of a building where the vote is taking place.

    There are violations which are meaningless and there are violations that can and do pervert the result such as ballot stuffing etc.

    However, there is no getting around the fact that even now, of the candidates who ran and even those who didn’t, Putin was and is the most popular and most credible despite his star currently fading amongst the liberal minded St P and Moscow middle classes.

    We can dispute the margin of victory by percentage declared but regardless, Putin would still have won more votes than any other candidate whether the election was settled in one round or two.

    Even if he had polled only 35 – 40% of the votes in a thoroughly free and fair election it would have been more than any other candidate. (And also more than many western leaders poll when winning their elections).

    In my personal opinion it would have been better that he did not even run as I do not see it doing our neighbours in the north many favours, however I do recognise that Russia is also severely lacking in quality politicians just as Ukraine is and when faced with a choice of bad or incredibly bad, bad will win in a popular vote.

    The EU therefore has little choice but to highlight any serious electoral violations that will have caused a notable and significant impact, but must also be quite well aware that Putin is still the most popular political figure in Russia even if that result is not popular with the EU.

    As the Communists (skilled in electoral fraud for 70 years) came second and the fascists/nationalists came third under the misnomer of liberal democrats, then followed by an oligarch, the result is probably the best Russia could have hoped for from such a poor set of candidates.

    As the liberal middle classes have yet to rally around any single “enlightened” candidate even if one had run, it is highly unlikely that Putin would have lost this time anyway.

    Acknowledge any serious electoral violations, raise concerns over them as is standard diplomatic practice and then get on with dealing with Putin as every national capital and the EU would have expected to be the case anyway.

  8. duchessa

    Russia is a big supplier of energy, natural gas and many other raw materials, which European countries are not so rich with. We do not have the economical mechanisms to transform the political life in Russia. We can let them know what is our opinion on the way they manage their elections, but we cannot stop the undesirable political processes there. As far as Russia is not a member of EU, we cannot control over the political life in this country.

  9. Linda Knox

    I can’t believe the Eu are concerned about this when the next election in Greece will be an unfair one. The voters in Greece are being told they should vote for one of the two main parties who are currently in the coalition government and not for one of the other parties. This is because the current coalition have already signed contracts that they will continue the austerity measures. So Greece will only get the bail out if they vote the way the EU wants them to vote. Is this democracy? I don’t think so. Greek voters can’t even use non voting as a protest as a non vote is counted as a vote for the current government. It stinks that this is being done in a ”democratic” vote in a democratic country, especially one with a non elected technocrat in charge.

  10. Lata Gouveia

    Scott, is it so surprising than in a society where the majority of people are poor someone like Chavez or Putin (research Russian standards of living under Yeltsin) can get a genuine majority? Just because we don’t like them, it doesn’t mean they stole the election. If I look at the Republican and Democratic parties in the US as 2 puppets in the hands of the same masters, don’t they steal the election every time?
    Define a “real election”.
    Define a “Dictatorship”
    Which camp do Italy and Greece fit into, at this moment in time.
    Too many “Cowboys and Indians” movies in our childhood, I think. We’re always the good guy. I get it.

  11. Dovydas Ulkštinas

    As always,
    France, Germany: “Oh dear Mr. Putin, we LOVE you, you are democratic person of Russia, you the hero of Russia, we will give you our medals(What France did.) and other stuff, just please give cheaper gases! Yes we will do anything what you will command us, we won’t try to be independent from your gases, just give cheaper gas, we beg you!”

  12. Leonardo Baggiani

    First of all, public opinion has got not the lightest idea of what those “serious problem” in polls were. Maybe they are like what happens in several parts of Italy (biased interpretation of not-correctly expressed votes, and sometimes already marked votes?), and not things like burning opposition votes or “correcting” votes or menacing people. The continuous talking of “irregularities” without specifying the species reduces the credibility of all the matter.

    Then, now we know that Russian votation is “not regular”, what will the EU do? Just declairing scorn and discontent? It does not sound very worrysome to a Nation whence we were and will anyway be importing gas and other commodities. Nor we can boycott any Russian production now that Russia is part of the WTO. EU can neither expose its reproach too loud as Russia is a sovereign State, let apart do anything material to revert or “regularise” the poll’s result.

    It’s mere words against a wall of necessary imports, so what International Observers are there for?

    There are several other nations where civil rights are far more menaced than in Russia; has EU the slightest right to enter these sovereign States and fix the problems?

    Excuse me MESSRS €MP’s, but I cannot see no real utility in condamning this and that – as no re-action follows – more than a funny Risiko match where at least you can lay plastic tanks on Kamchatka!

  13. George

    What we see and hear is happening in every corner of ex-soviet countries. The means of winning an electoral campaign is easy to handle when you control the power and the money (don’t you think that Putin is allied with all the gas and oil Russian tycoons?). The bad old news about the EU is that it doesn’t do a thing, because they can’t do anything, instead of supporting repercussions.
    But why they ain’t moving a finger in Romania, Bulgaria, and other countries with election problem? Where corruption is higher than you could ever think (the score is lower than TI-S settled in their anti-corruption report). For example, this year in Romania were established the local (for city mayor) elections, and a mayor told me that this year we have a bigger budget for local administration (than ever before), “we would do roads, repair them, do concerts” for poor people, create some other unuseful things for a society that lives on a salary of less than 100 euro/month, relating to the food price that is almost the same as in EU well-developed countries (sometime I wonder how did they live, how did we live, how did I live with a student scholarship less than 80 euro/month?). Hey mister EU, are we living the same life? Why should we support that in this “democratic” world?!

  14. Christos Mouzeviris

    I am concerned about what is unfair and undemocratic in Europe/EU the most…We can not change or interfere in Russian internal affairs.. Putin must go, but we can only watch really…We have no authority to intervene like we do in other regions..We should try to sort our problems in Europe first, before we start criticizing Russia..We are not in much better place…Democracy in Europe is fading…So try to deal with that first…

    And just for the record: Germany and other European “partners” have told the Greek people to vote for either the PASOK or New Democracy party in order to get the second bail out funds..In other words, either we do as they say or else..To remind you, those two parties are responsible for the current mess in Greece and the eurozone, as they were in power since the 70s…So even though we do not want them anymore, we are told ..we are ordered to do as Germany says, just because those two parties signed the deal that sells out Greece to its European “partners”..!! And you dare criticize Russia for its elections…?? How dare you!! Sort your own back garden Europe, before you dare to criticize others…!!

    • Sotiris Kalli

      I couldn’t agree more!!! We the europeans are the biggest hypocrites in the world!! Europe dares to criticize Russia’s elections and not criticize Turkey’s intentions of not recognizing Cyprus as a country and a member of EU and not to say the illegal occupation of half the island since 1974!!! Wake up Europe and try to get the correct decisions about Turkey’s entrance to EU before is late!!! Let’s try to solve our own problems within EU and then we have the time to intervene into other countries political systems!

  15. Edgaras Mascinskas

    There will always be errors in electoral process, there is no perfect system, we have to acknowledge that. The issue is that, Mr. Putin is conducting aggressive foreign policy, and leading Russian citizens blindly to believe that Russia is a victim, and the West wants only to exploit. That creates a political/cultural barrier which will be difficult to overcome in coming 6 years. Do not forget Putin is ex-KGB, he is a strong realist, and we can assume his office is under the same perception.

    Unless this perception changes, Russia will struggle to become a partner of West.

    • Leonardo Baggiani

      “Mr. Putin is [...] leading Russian citizens blindly to believe that Russia is a victim, and the West wants only to exploit”

      Try see this way for Greece:
      “Mr. MP is [...] leading Greek citizens blindly to believe that Greece is a victim, and Germany wants only to exploit”.

      Try see this way for Finland:
      “Mr. MP is [...] leading Finnish citizens blindly to believe that Finnland is a victim, and Mediterranean countries want only to exploit”.

      Each version has realised. I quote Christos “Sort your own back garden Europe, before you dare to criticize others…!!”

  16. Burke Louis

    Russia is embracing the newness of democracy while revisiting it’s Greek Orthodox history of great composers and contemporaries. The E.U. might be wiser to invest in Russia than become defensive over what might or might not happen as the result of an election.

  17. Craig Willy

    “The State Department also said it endorsed the preliminary reports by independent European election monitors. Those monitors have criticized the election as being unfairly tilted in Mr. Putin’s favor, but they also have asserted that Sunday’s vote resulted in a clear winner.” – Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/5/state-department-welcomes-russian-poll-results/

    Russia is an illiberal democracy, roughly on a par with Turkey, and Putin is personally popular among Russians. These are facts. The country is politically a fairly normal state by developing world standards and infinitely more democratic than most of the Middle East (including Western allies Saudi, Qatar, Yemen…), much of East Asia (China, Vietnam..), and indeed its own neighborhood (compare with Belarus or the Central Asian republics).

    You may not like Russia, Putin or his polices but that doesn’t make him satanic or some kind of threat. (If we want to talk about destabilizing the world and wars of choice, we’d better look West than East.)

  18. Michael Tsikalakis

    This is a huge subject to comment but very interesting to be avoided. Democracy was born in Greece and its definition is “power from the citizens” (dimos=people, citizens and kratos=power,dominance). Democracy today is not the same as it was two thousand years ago in the Ancient Greece. This is because real Democracy can only be applied to a “system” with a small population and not with millions or billions of people under one government. People in power do not represent citizens any more. All decisions are made by the elite of the political system and citizens follow after being persuaded with one way or the other. I would not comment on the above comments as I have not enough information for who is the real “enemy” or real “friend”. If somebody has an idea then please let me know. We have reached the point that everything concerning political and economic life seems to be unclear. Who is having a profit with this situation? Nevertheless what I can say, concerning foreign affairs, is that there is one common parameter to all these and that is GLOBALIZATION or lets say a New World Order.

  19. Peter Schellinck

    The fact that Putin muscled himself to president proves that the Russians are certainly very difficult to understand; they are unpredictable and present-day politics in Russia is also unpredictable. It is a messianic country that considers itself to be better than everyone else. Europe and Russia are two different cultures. Russia is not a room in a European house. Russia is a separate, dirty house.

    If you take the whole Russian system of values it’s very different from Western life, often contradicting the Western one and in genuine conflict with it. Nobody really knows what’s happening in Russia today. I don’t know, nobody I talk to seems to know. I don’t think even Putin and Medvedev know what’s going on there, because Putin doesn’t know what Medvedev thinks and Medvedev doesn’t know what Putin thinks. Although initially they had agreed they would think together but when they could not agree they realized they would not think together. And now Medvedev has gone all ultra progressive and he made the opposition seem like a bunch of total conformists. He said that everything in the country was bad, shamefully bad, horrendously bad. And now the censored Russian television doesn’t know what to do.

    Before the election campaign even started Medvedev had appealed to the Russians to be wise and free. This is impossible for a Russian. He has appealed to some ideals that nobody knows where to find. Putin, on the other hand, has exhausted the potential of stability and of Chekist conformism so it’s not clear now which way to go. He has no resources left, which is very dangerous and unpredictable, while Medvedev has great ideas but it’s not clear how they can be achieved.

    There is a growing feeling of exhaustion and disillusionment in the region, as they succumbed to growing populism, corruption, racism and chauvinism, and the Russian model of market economics no longer appears to be working.

    And now, beware, Putin is back and for a long enough period to surprise Western Europe, the rest of the world and “democracy” because of democracy fatigue, a phenomenon encountered throughout Europe!

  20. effie exarchoulakou

    As a European citizen, I welcome Russian elections as an act towards democracy which really represents the Russian people and soul. The Russian civilazation is an asset for Europe and for all the world since has given us historical monuments and pneumatic food to think for our best future.

  21. John Preston

    So, how should EU respond to all this? do we have any mechanism or resource to do that? Why do we need Russia to have fair elections when we have our own problems in EU? Will anyone like Communist or Liberal candidates reduce prices on gas or make the transportation more safe and give guarantees?

  22. Elfriede Fausto

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