On 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.
Renate Weber is a Romanian lawyer, human rights activist and an MEP for the National Liberal Party.