The flaws in Europe’s democracy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In an article published in the autumn 2007 issue of Europe’s World, Jerzy Baczynski looks at the reality of democracy in the EU’s new member states and addresses the ‘democratic deficit’ issue.

According to Baczynski, attachment to democracy is part of the European self-image, “if often a somewhat idealised one”. He refers to a ranking on the quality of democracy in 167 countries, released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). It uses indicators such as the reliability of elections, the functioning of the administration, citizens’ participation in politics and the scope of civic freedoms. 

The results revealed significant disparities among EU member states. Poland was in 46th place alongside Italy. Germany is in 13th position and the UK 23rd, reports the author. 

Even though Italy is a founding member of the EU, it is generally acknowledged to be a country where democracy is “both incomplete and defective”, he adds. 

However, the EU may justly consider itself as a “mainstay of democracy, civic freedom and human rights”, argues Baczynski. Europe plays this role effectively enough to appear as a model of democracy to nations outside the EU and in particular those aspiring to membership, he notes. 

Thus, eastern post-communist countries saw in the EU the means to consolidate and protect their “infant democracies”. As a result, these countries have built their new political systems on the model of the West, the author says. 

However, the situation in Iraq has driven home to us the lesson that democracy “takes poor root in places where there are too few local resources to nurture it”, notes the author. 

The new democratic institutions in most of the post-communist countries were quickly “seized and held hostage” by political parties and then fell victim to ills ranging from incompetence to abuse of power and corruption, he argues. 

To illustrate this statement, Baczynski cites the results of a poll conducted just before Poland’s EU accession, which revealed that just 12% of Poles trusted their own institutions, while those of the EU enjoyed the confidence of over 60%. 

Later, the new member states had to face the reluctance of the older ones to pursue further EU enlargement and closer integration, he continues. 

Once the EU has shown progress in the integration of its hundred million new citizens who had been living in “authoritarian quarantine” for half a century, it may then be possible to consider further expansion of the European model to new territory, such as Georgia, Ukraine, the Balkans and of course Turkey, concludes the paper. 

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