»Insbesondere in Griechenland und Ungarn ist die Demokratie gefährdet«

Bericht des britischen Think Tanks Demos zur Lage der Demokratie in der EU, 26.9.2013

Findings: who are Europe’s backsliders?

Our index confirms a common perception that Eastern European countries tend to be at the bottom of democracy measures, while Western and Northern European countries are at the top. This should come as no surprise given that many of these countries only emerged from the shadow of Communism in the early 1990s. 

And yet on some measures we see this bifurcation of Europe disintegrating, with Eastern European countries showing notable improvements, while Western European countries appear to be suffering democratic malaise – particularly looking at the views of citizens themselves. 

Overall, Greece and Hungary emerge as the most worrying backsliders on measures of healthy democracy.

Priority countries: Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary

Bulgaria and Romania are consistently the poorest performers relative to their EU peers across all five dimensions. Given the histories of these countries, this should not be surprising. But there have also been some modest improvements, for example relating to tolerance for minority groups. Bulgaria was the single biggest improver on the second dimension rights and fundamental freedoms.
 Hungary was a significant ‘backslider’ on dimensions 1 and 2 and, worryingly, scored poorly with respect to citizens’ attitudes towards democracy. It was also the poorest performer on our measure of active citizenship. In the past few years, the wideranging suite of proposed legislative changes in Hungary has undermined pluralism and democracy. The popularity of the far right Jobbik party adds to international concern about Hungary.

The faltering Mediterranean bloc

Although Spain, Greece, Italy (and Portugal) were rarely among the worst performers, at least one of them is a backslider for every dimension except dimension 3 (tolerance of minorities). Greece experienced the sharpest declines and it continues to suffer severe strain to its democracy: high unemployment, corruption, social unrest, the rise of extremism and a deep public malaise. Particularly worrying is the fact that it was one of the worst performers on dimension 2, fundamental freedoms and rights.
Italy also was a frequent decliner as it continues to battle endemic corruption and organised crime. The corruption and evasion of prosecution by Prime Minister Berlusconi has undermined the public’s faith in social and political institutions. The extraordinary rise of populist Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement in the 2013 election reflected the public’s frustration.

Democracy in the EU in the 21st century

Our index also provides snapshots of how Europe is doing as a whole since the turn of the century.

Procedural and electoral democracy (dimension 1)

On three out of the four indicators we used, the European average declined successively between 2000, 2008 and 2011. Control of corruption worsened, political stability decreased and the number of people voting has declined. There was significant decline in Greece, Italy and Hungary relative to their peers. Greece declined across rule of law, control of corruption and political stability; Italy declined on rule of law and control of corruption; Hungary showed three successive declines on rule of law and control of corruption. Those at the bottom of the table were Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Latvia and Lithuania.   Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania showed the lowest levels of voter turnout.

Fundamental rights and freedoms (dimension 2)

The European average score for protection of freedoms and rights has been constant since 2000, though within this consistency some countries have fluctuated. The five worst performing countries are Romania, Latvia, Slovakia, Greece and Bulgaria. Hungary was one of the only countries to show three successive declines, and thus should be a priority. Latvia also declined substantially, driven by its score for freedom of religion and economic rights of women.

Tolerance of minorities (dimension 3)

There are clear limitations to the EVS ‘neighbour’ question (where respondents choose which types of people they ‘would not like to have as a neighbour’), but nonetheless it provides some insight into how people’s attitudes towards minorities change. Across Europe, we find that Roma were considered the least desirable neighbour, followed by homosexuals and then Muslims. Overall, Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovenia experienced the most significant hardening of attitudes. Those countries below the average on this measure tended to be in Eastern Europe, with Austria and Italy being the exceptions. Of all the minority groups considered, negative attitudes towards Muslims hardened most significantly, rising 4 percentage points from 2000 to 2008.

Active citizenship (dimension 4)

Between 2000 and 2008, Europeans on average tended to become less politically active (signing fewer petitions, joining fewer boycotts and demonstrating less) and less likely to belong to a civic organisation. Volunteering, on the other hand, increased. During the years since 2008 there has been economic recession, unemployment has risen, and there have been banking and fiscal crises; austerity programmes have been met with significant political protest, and may have impacted on volunteering rates as well. For these reasons this dimension is difficult to interpret – rates of political activism could be tied to corruption, inefficient institutions and social and economic unrest. However, the data suggest that this is not the case. Consistently strong democracies like Sweden, France and Denmark also show the highest levels of political activism, while Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary occupy the lowest positions.

Satisfaction with democracy (dimension 5)

Again, the data here are limited to 2000 and 2008, and it is certain that the years since 2008 will have had a significant impact on citizens’ attitudes towards democracy. The banking and eurozone crises have contributed to a sense of an out-oftouch political elite. More recent data from the 2012 DEREX [Demand for Right-Wing Extremism] Index showed that antiestablishment views in Greece had increased drastically, with 62 per cent displaying lack of trust in the political system. Even between 2000 and 2008, however – what many describe as the boom years – satisfaction with democracy in Europe was decreasing. Our index showed the most significant declines in those years in Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia score the worst out of their peers. 

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