The EU has already taken on some of our suggestions for things it could do to better protect our rights and keep our democracies healthy. For example, a new fund for rights and democracy groups, and the ability to cut off EU money to authoritarian governments. The new annual report of the European Commission is another one of our ideas. This kind of annual check-up on EU governments could help to shed light on problems as they start to emerge in EU countries. That can allow the EU to step in at an early stage before threats to democracy become harder to reverse, such as in Hungary and Poland.
The Commission is going to publish its report in September. Right now, it's still collecting information about the situation. And Liberties has sent in its own report with information from some of our members.
Our report covers 8 EU countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Spain. It shows that threats to democracy and rights in the EU are not just an issue in countries ruled by governments with an authoritarian agenda, like Poland and Hungary. Although the situation in those countries is a lot more serious, we can see similar trends in other parts of the EU. Here are our top four concerns:
- Courts are not independent and efficient enough. This is a big issue: when things go wrong in life and we have to turn to the courts. And we want the chance to give our side of the story and to have someone impartial take a fair decision.
- Government corruption is still very common in some countries, and many governments aren't doing a good job of uncovering cases and bringing corrupt politicians to justice. If a government is corrupted, it means politicians are taking decisions that put their own friends and family first instead of us.
- The media is not able to do its job properly: in some cases, journalists can't report freely because governments control the public broadcaster. In other cases, journalists are afraid to publish their investigations because they are afraid of lawsuits or attacks. Sometimes, independent media companies just don't have the money they need to pay journalists. If we want a healthy democracy, we need a free and independent media so we can keep track of what our governments are doing.
- Several governments are making it more difficult for people to work together by forming associations or holding peaceful protests. This means it is harder for us to organise ourselves to speak with one voice and make our representatives pay attention to our opinions.
Liberties has given a number of suggestions to EU leaders to solve these problems. For example:
- The EU could take countries to court more frequently when they break EU laws that help to protect an independent media or stop corruption. At the moment, the European Commission does not always start these cases, even though it has the power to do so.
- The EU could put more political pressure on governments that deliberately attack democracy and rights. For example, the European Commission could include recommendations to each government in its report. This would make it clear what each country is expected to do to solve problems that the Commission spots. However, the Commission does not plan to include recommendations.
- The EU could make sure that organisations that help make democracy work properly have enough money. For example, independent journalists and rights and democracy groups. They are important to make sure the public can have a well-informed debate about what the government is doing, help the public speak to politicians about their concerns and bring court cases when governments ignore the law.