Is Europe’s Democracy in Crisis?

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By Aslihan Y.

From the rapid spread of authoritarianism and totalitarianism after WWI and the infectious USSR ideology after WWII, the continent is more democratic than it has ever been. However, the democratic values and principles that form the cornerstone of Europe’s political and social landscape are facing significant challenges in recent times. From the rise of populist movements to the Brexit chronicle, the continent is experiencing a seismic shift in the way its citizens view the institutions that govern their lives. Inspired by Filip Kostelka, in this article, we examine whether Europe’s democracy is indeed in crisis and briefly explore the factors contributing to this phenomenon.

Populist Movements and the Erosion of Democratic Norms

One of the most significant challenges facing Europe’s democracy is the rise of populist movements. These movements, which have gained traction in countries such as, but not limited to Hungary, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and France, often espouse anti-establishment rhetoric and seek to undermine democratic norms and institutions. In Hungary, for instance, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of curbing media freedom and restricting the independence of the judiciary. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has been accused of politicizing the judiciary and curtailing the freedom of the press. In Denmark, The Dansk Folkeparti (third largest party) promotes policies related to the protection of Danish heritage, rejection of multiculturalism, and against non-western immigration. They have suggested that “ a multi-ethnic Danish society would be a national disaster.” These developments are a cause for concern, as they undermine the foundations of democracy.

Brexit and the Rise of Nationalism

Another challenge to Europe’s democracy is the Brexit saga. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union has created a rift in the continent, with nationalist sentiments on the rise in many countries. The rise of heavy nationalistic sentiments can lead to the erosion of democratic norms and institutions. In countries such as Italy and France, nationalist parties have gained significant support in recent years, with their leaders often espousing anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric. This development poses a challenge to the idea of a united Europe and threatens to undermine the progress made in the last few decades.

The Impact of social media on Democracy

The advent of social media has brought about significant changes in the way people consume and share information. While social media has the potential to promote democratic values and facilitate civic engagement, it can also be used to spread disinformation and propaganda. The spread of fake news and disinformation has been a significant challenge in recent years, especially now during the Russian-Ukrainian war, with many politicians and media outlets using social media to spread lies and misinformation. This development is a palpable threat to democracy, as it undermines the ability of citizens to make informed decisions based on accurate information.

Polarization

As it may seem natural to have polarized societies, when groups are pushed to extremes, it tends to yield internal strife. It can then become a significant challenge to democracy, in this case, in Europe. The increasing divide between different groups in society, such as urban vs. rural, young vs. old, and native-born vs. immigrant, has led to a fragmentation of political discourse and a lack of common ground. This makes it difficult to build consensus and compromise, which are essential for democratic decision-making.

Lack of Trust

Another challenge to democracy in Europe is the decline of trust in political institutions. According to a Eurobarometer survey conducted in 2021, only 36% of Europeans trust their national government, and only 49% trust the European Union. This lack of trust is a result of various factors, such as corruption, the perception of political elites being out of touch with the people, and a feeling of powerlessness among citizens.

Bibliography

Kostelka, F. (n.d.). Is Europe’s Democracy in Crisis? [online] Public Seminar. Available at: https://publicseminar.org/essays/is-europes-democracy-in-crisis/

www.opensocietyfoundations.org. (n.d.). Populism in Europe: Denmark. [online] Available at: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/populism-europe-denmark.

‌European Commission – European Commission. (n.d.). Press corner. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_1867.

Analysis | Why is Poland’s Law and Justice Party trying to rein in the judiciary? (n.d.). Washington Post. [online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/07/26/why-is-polands-law-and-justice-party-trying-to-rein-in-the-judiciary/.

Aslihan Yilmaz
WRITTEN BY

Aslihan Yilmaz

I find great fulfillment in continually challenging myself and embarking on exciting new projects. My particular passion lies in the realm of International Relations within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where I am dedicated to delving into the complex dynamics and developments in the area.I derive immense satisfaction from experimenting with innovative strategies to drive organic traffic, constantly seeking fresh and effective ways to engage with audiences and foster growth.

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