Most countries in Europe showed respect for democratic standards and civil liberties, even as many faced growing nationalist sentiment in response to an influx of immigrants. However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan displayed increasingly authoritarian tendencies, including a crackdown on protesters in Istanbul and a campaign against critical voices in the media, concludes the 41st annual Freedom of the World report of Freedom House, a major democracy watchdog organization.
Across Europe, the report names five "partly free" countries - Turkey plus four Balkan states - while all the 28 European Union member states (88 percent of all European countries) are ranked as "fully free." Director of Freedom House David J. Kramer, at the European launch of the report in the European Parliament, named Italy as a country where political rights rose following free and fair national elections and improvements in the anti-corruption environment of the state.
On the negative side, xenophobia is highlighted in the report with relation to Central Europe. Freedom House concludes that while attention has focused on the rise of anti-immigration and Euroskeptic parties in Britain, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and other Western European countries, more virulently xenophobic groups have been at work to the east. For example, the Golden Dawn Party in Greece has gained strength at the expense of the political mainstream as the country’s economy has suffered, and the current protest-battered government relies on it for a legislative majority. In Bulgaria, the Ataka Party and smaller ultranationalist parties regularly used racist rhetoric in their electoral campaigns in 2013, and they have recently targeted refugees from Syria and Muslim citizens.
In Hungary, Jobbik focuses its attacks on Jews and Roma, and although national parliamentary elections are due in April, it still holds 11 percent of the seats in parliament. The Slovak National Party (SNS) currently has no seats in that country’s legislature, but its slurs against Roma, Hungarians, and LGBT people continue to poison the political atmosphere.
Speaking about Europe in a global context, Guy Verhofstadt, European Parliamentary group leader of the European Liberal Party (ALDE), said that though the European situation is the best in the world, its neighboring countries (Middle-East, North Africa, Post Soviet countries) show signs of decline in Freedom. In particular, Ukraine and Egypt were mentioned as worrying cases.
Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House, added that the most disturbing region in the world is Eurasia. Namely Turkmenistan, Belarus and Uzbekistan are among the most restrictive authorities in the world. Furthermore, in Kazakhstan, Russia holds a playful role, influencing its neighbor in political and economic terms as well as pushing them into a non-democratic, semi-authoritarian state structure that helps Moscow manipulate it.
In his concluding remarks, Kramer reminded everyone that though he shares the MEPs concerns regarding the EU being too slow and hesitant in acting in favor of promoting democracy in the region, in his view the EU still does much better in commanding democratic transition in its region than Washington does.
The latter is especially important lately because, as Kramer argued, in the year 2000 a massive transformation took place across the globe towards democratization while the state of freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2013.