Liberal democracy is having a rough time at the moment. Checks on executive power are routinely dismissed as “undemocratic”; judges and courts are branded “enemies of the people”; and civil rights and liberties designed to protect minorities are viewed with suspicion. In countries across Europe, from Britain to Turkey, “sovereignty” is being used as justification to tinker with the existing institutions of democracy.

We had a comment sent in on our “Suggest a Debate” page from Desmond, who asked if the EU was doing enough to safeguard democracy in Europe.

In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has enacted a series of controversial reforms, most recently a new bill changing the way judges are appointed. The move has triggered mass protests, with opponents claiming it undermines judicial independence.

In Romania, earlier in 2017 hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets in the largest mass demonstrations since the fall of Communism. The demonstrations were triggered by legislation proposed by the Ministry of Justice that would have made abuse of power only criminally punishable if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei (€44,200). The government withdrew the bill, and the justice minister resigned.

In Hungary, the government has been courting controversy since it introduced a media law in 2010, which critics argued has undermined media freedom in the country. The government also amended the constitution in 2013 to reduce the power and independence of the Constitutional Court; and, in 2014, instituted a crackdown against foreign NGOs and civic groups, leading then-US President Barack Obama to include Hungary in a list of countries using “endless regulations and overt intimidation” against civil society.

The EU is supposed to be a club of free-market liberal democracies. In order to join, prospective members have to meet the so-called “Copenhagen criteria”, with strong and independent institutions in place to safeguard rule of law, civil rights, and democracy. But what happens if, having joined the club, the members start rolling back those reforms? As the EU’s recent tangle with Poland over judicial reforms demonstrates, there’s not much the EU can actually do. Sanctions (such as suspending Poland’s voting rights) would require unanimous approval from EU Member States, and that seems highly unlikely.

Is the EU doing enough to safeguard democracy within Europe? Are democratic institutions being eroded by governments keen to concentrate power in the executive? And, if so, is there anything that can be done to prevent this happening? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Tim Green

82 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    John John

    Far to many right wing groups in the EU trying to tamper with there own democracy ……..shouting down those oppose them as anti patriotic then attempting to change there constitutional law courts to suit there right wing values…….. The only way forward is a United States of Europe ……..

    • avatar
      Medman Vita

      Every wants it… we want close relations not being dictated to by non elected morons!!!!

    • avatar
      Coralee De Fréine

      Medman Vita “Everybody wants it”???? Speak for yourself dear, I certainly don’t.

  2. avatar
    Vladislav Kiuldjiiski

    No those migrants Europe let in are a ticking time bomb and if it really was a democracy it would have asked its people whether they want to accept refugees but they didn’t so it’s a dictatorship and that’s not the only thing they didn’t ask us about

    • avatar

      I absolutely agree. The illegal migrants (because that is what they are) have been invading Europe, mainly via Greece who has and still is suffering because of them, have been trapped here. Nobody asked us if we want them.

  3. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    The EU is governed by an unelected politburo and a European (pretend) Parliament nobody was asked if they wanted.

    The EU is the exact opposite of a democracy.

  4. avatar
    Luis García

    Greece and the german diktat; this has destroyed the EU. The consequences will only be seen over time. (Socializing the losses of the Greek and German banks in Greek society (and Icelandic?:))) Has been something very German.

  5. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Sorry, looking at the wrong end of the problem!

    The existing EU institutions of democracy- presently are:

    * the European Parliament.
    * the European Council.
    * the Council of the European Union
    * the European Commission.
    * the Court of Justice of the European Union.
    * the European Central Bank.
    * the Court of Auditors.

    Q: How did they come about?
    A: These EU institutions were created with the establishment of the European Community in 1958- so it is recorded.

    That should & does explain ALL- or?

    They lack the geniuses of authority because they were & are not founded, elected or voted on by a common EU electorate agreeing on such illusive remaining “EU CONSTITUTION”!

    Therefore, the EU- despite all its brains & efforts- is & remains a democratic orphan & will for ever remain handicapped! Politicians its time to be honest to find a different solution!

    Judges & courts please tell- say please!

  6. avatar
    Franck Legon

    EU is doing everything possible to outpass democracy and force adoption of the financial layer’s interest as the rule and aim of everyone. That’s killing us.

  7. avatar
    Vytautas Rakštytis

    The article is rather strange, conflating the expressions of democracy with the influence of foreign powers to dictate the dometics policies… A big part of the turmoil is precisely about double standards of what actually is “democracy”. There you go.

    • avatar
      Vincent Lia

      The EU should be concerned with democracy. Each country member must be democratic and the EU should see to that like it sees to other obligations. If a country member is not democratic any more it will be detrimental to the other nation states.

    • avatar
      Barbara Szela Lesniak

      Vincent Lia If using double standards EU is not democratic, how come this EU is supposed to see to member countries’ democracy. EU needs to reformed and remember member countries are independent. As to my country, there’s more democracy than there used to be when PO party was in power – whether you believe it or not …

    • avatar

      Neither do you with logic

  8. avatar
    JD Blaha

    Look at how little the EU is doing to stop Hungary and Poland’s slide into authoritarianism, and you will find your answer.

    • avatar
      Zdzislaw Pawlaszek

      Hungary and Poland,are only demokratic countries in EU.

    • avatar
      Ivan Burrows

      JD Blaha

      So the unelected European commission should force Hungary & Poland to comply with Brussels dictates ?, you don’t really understand the meaning of the word ‘authoritarianism’ do you.

    • avatar
      JD Blaha

      Ivan Burrows maybe you don’t follow the news in Hungary. The govt is shutting down a university for political reasons, adding regulations and publicly vilifying NGOs that disagree with the govt and torturing refugees at the border. Does it have to be full Nazism before you will take a stand?

    • avatar
      James Stromberg

      Because the EU does not have the power to do this. It can only withdraw EU rights, for example voting rights, but this is a slow and delicate process everyone is keen to avoid.

    • avatar
      JD Blaha

      James Stromberg Of course, when it comes to democracy and human rights – but look what the EU did to the Greeks when they resisted some German banks. This hypocrisy is what is tearing apart the EU today.

  9. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    storia della parola DEMOCRAZIA . Noi la intendiamo come sistema rappresentativo ma non è sempre stato cosi. Quando si parla di DEMOCRAZIA bisogna sapere cosa si intende. Canfora ci spiega questa parola “democrazia “, da dove proviene cosa significava , man mano fino ad arrivare ai nostri tempi. Fatevi del bene, ascoltatevi un pò di cultura. Per capire bisogna sapere e per sapere bisogna capire .

    • avatar

      You, too?

  10. avatar
    Yordan Vasilev

    The exit is one: the Eropean law to concern for all State Members. If one country doesn’t perform the princips of the democracy and the free-market, it to be punished.

  11. avatar
    Graham Hinkin

    There in no place for democracy in the EU agenda. The Federal European Union. It is a totalitarian dictatorship. No say, no vote, one country, one flag, one currency. No culture, no democracy. That is how it was conceived, been working towards federalisation for over 60 years. When the Federalisation treaties kick in, the countries in the EU will not be legally able to leave. The EU army will make sure they do not. Be careful what you wish for.

    • avatar

      Do you favour the time of WW1 or WW2? Or maybe Napoleonic Wars? Or 30years War? Franco – Prussian War? Or Danish-Swedish one? Or the recent war in Yugoslavia, outside the EU? Which you like best? Or maybe you hate the stability and prosperity the EU has provided and prefere mudhuts and camels instead? All that is not a God given gift but hard won achievements.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      @ Chris

      Guess what, it is possible to have something between a Europe at war and a federal European superstate…… and it does not need a profligate, totalitarianist political entity to achieve this…and as for “stability and prosperity” clearly the financial state of Greece and the migrant problems in Italy are just minor inconveniences to be ignored?….. and as for prosperity, the EU does not create any prosperity, it merely redistributes wealth

    • avatar
      Paul X

      @ Chris

      So there’s only two choices.. a Europe at war, or a Europe ruled over
      by a profligate, totalitarian, politically incompetent organisation?…the world really is a simple place to some people

  12. avatar
    George Ferentinos

    EE a democratic political entity?!!! I have seen nowhere! even in the worst undemocratic states to vote more than once! till the citizens vote for the desired for the elites outcome!! Eg irish and denish referenda!!!

    • avatar

      What constructive alternative do you pros?

    • avatar

      What constructive alternative do you propose?

  13. avatar
    Alex Tselentis

    Europe today = Bankrupt clown show failure, war in Ukraine, refugee crisis, serious division, terror attacks, things are great.

    • avatar

      It used to be worse, you just do not remember.

  14. avatar
    Steve wale

    I believe the EU to be democratic as long as it suits the rulers of Europe. When people vote and the rulers do not like the answer they rephrase the question and ask them again and keep doing so until they get the answer that the want. This was not said by me but by a high ranking employee of the EU and I trust if he reads this he will admit to what he said

  15. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    As commented earlier to prove or disprove the EU’s constant claim of being a fully democratic “participatory democracy” can be found in “The Treaty of Rome” (248 Articles) & their later additions. Obvious is- that:

    * it was established by the will & power of 3 Royals and 3 Presidents on behalf of the 6 founding members and their electorate in 1957- without an “electoral” participation. Joined by 21 more sovereign Member States over time on mainly economic promises of greater “prosperity” for all.

    * Those six “Head of States” in 1957 were: DETERMINED, DECIDED, DIRECTING, RECOGNIZING, ANXIOUS, DESIROUS, INTENDING, RESOLVED, HAVE DECIDED to establish today’s EU. How democratic!

    ……..and whom did they forget in their eagerness?

    Please politicians make proposals to the electorate of how to fix that democratic concoction (deficit)- or was it a deliberate “oversight”?

    Please stop asking us endlessly- give us answers!

  16. avatar

    Educate, educate, educate. Failing that withold funding. Eventually-suspend membership and all privileges that come with it. No unanimity? Simple: hard core EU and the periphery.

  17. avatar
    John Lamprogiannis

    DEMOCRACY is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Does that sound like the system that the E.U has!

  18. avatar
    Nikos Dizes

    When all european members have accepted silently Germany as a leader what whould you expect. Twice in the near past Germans started world wars ending in thousands dead innocent people. They are born killers like the pitbuls. No excuse to any country for that.

  19. avatar
    Peter Bakos

    It is like the US where people don’t seem to understand the concept of representative democracy. We don’t have (except in places in Switzerland) direct democracy where everyone assembles in the public square and decides everything. We create a system of basic laws called a constitution and then elect people to govern according to that document. We have seen in places like Hungary and Poland where a majority has been able to change their basic documents to make checks and balances on the authority of the central state more difficult. That’s fine as long as that central government is doing stuff you like. It is not fine when it starts doing stuff you don’t like, and they always end up going bad. There is a system in the EU, with an elected Parliament, and you have a national parliament which runs the same way. If you don’t tell them you don’t like what they are doing they can’t figure it out for themselves.

  20. avatar
    Sam Wragg

    This is what the liberal glitterati don’t get…. You forsake the majority by pandering to the MINORITY! Eventually the majority have no voice and no where to turn too. And then someone comes along (ie Hitler) and all hell is unleashed

  21. avatar
    Carmen Grech

    No Nono noooo eu just sitting on their butt doing absolutely nothing to safe guard or democracy in Malta EU has to wake up ????

  22. avatar
    Roger Clark

    Protect democracy? What a bloody joke lol how can it protect something it does not believe in the united states of europe is their goal and you do as you are ordered to do with no questions!! What does that remind the older generation of?,,

  23. avatar
    Tim Briffa

    Is this a fuciking joke? It’s like asking if cats are doing enough to protect the well-being of mice.

  24. avatar
    Coralee De Fréine

    Is this some kind of a joke? The EU and the word “Democracy” should not be put together in the same sentence. Not only is the EU undemocratic, they have shown nothing but contempt for democracy.
    They steam rolled over our democracy in Ireland by forcing our government to overturn not one but TWO referenda results (The Treaty of Nice and The Lisbon Treaty.)
    If that wasn’t bad enough, the ECB’s Jean Claude Trichet phoned our then minister for finance and threatened our sovereign government and our state with a bomb that he said would go off in Dublin unless we adhered to their demands.
    QUOTE :
    “I can confirm to this committee he said it. He did not say an economic bomb would go off in Dublin, he said a bomb would go off.”

    Is the EU doing enough to safeguard democracy? IMO, They don’t even know what it is!

  25. avatar
    Bruno J. De Cordier

    Liberal democracy is as good as dead, so let’s stop pretending. The most interesting question is, what are the alternatives that will emerge.

  26. avatar
    Tristan Meadows

    Why do we speak about the EU as if it is something we are detached from. We are the EU and we the voters with our voter apathy are doing nothing to safeguard democracy. Vote in the regional and general elections. Vote for your MEPs and stop complaining. Read the statistics of voter turnout in our countries.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      People vote for what they believe in, the total apathy of voters and low turnout at EU elections says all you need to know about what the majority of people think of the EU

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Tristan Meadows

      You must be joking here. Vote for whom and when?

      In the UK we voted for our MEP’s. And they were overwhelmingly for out of Europe. the people made the decision then to leave Europe. Yet, as we see daily, it is not acceptable to the unelected European group.

      Out is out. Brexit is Brexit. We have already had more than one vote. In fact we had 73 votes. So again what is Democracy?

      And the real moves taking place in Europe

  27. avatar
    Lawrence Baron

    No! But then the EU is all the political institutions of the member states. So the question should really be: is your government doing enough for democracy? The answer is no!

  28. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is the EU doing enough to safeguard democracy within Europe?

    And which democracy are you citing, DE? LOL. Do you know what the word means? I don’t think so. Otherwise this question would never arise.

    Democracy means accepting the voice of the people. The EU is incapable of doing that. Take Brexit for example. They are pushing as hard as they can, once again, for a rerun of the referendum vote in the UK and doing it via the Blair creature, who, if they believed in Democracy, they would have nothing to do with. He is a hated war criminal. Yet, ‘they,’ in the EU, have promised him EU Presidency if he pulls off this further traitorism to their advantage. The EU know without the UK they are sunk. And big money doesn’t like backing anything but a winning horse. Do they? Democracy has nothing to do with it as that word is used as a PR scam. Money is what they live for. In their own pockets of course!

    The UK has no liability to the EU for any so called ‘divorce’ bill. British tax payers will not fund the EU operation further. The British tax payer expect the EU to reimburse the UK for all misused funds during our stint as part of that organisation. All funds that cannot be accounted for by audit. And it must be paid prior to our departure.

    • avatar
      Stefania Portici

      questa canzone dice “disegnate i colori” ( non colorate i disegni , i colori non si possono disegnare ) sapete cosa significa !? Questa espressione è terribile e significa che i colrori della vita possiamo solo ricordare come è stata bella la vita dopo le due guerre ( con l’aquisizione da parte dei popoli dei diritti e le Costituzioni a protezione ) prima della globalizzazione neoliberista che li ha fatti diventare carta igienica e ci fa “disegnare i colori” perchè ci hanno rubato i sogni , adesso abbiamo gli incubi. Mi fa piangere

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