This week, a corrupted Constitutional Court effectively took Poland out fo the EU’s legal framework. Who could be next? Two weeks earlier, we saw nationalists coming together, and ever closer to the mainstream.
This new gathering of Marine Le Pen, Victor Orban, Matteo Salvini and a motley crew of far right trolls-turned-leaders want to drive the agenda on the Future of Europe. Each step chips away at the building blocks of rule of law, humans rights and democracy. Eventually the house may well come down on us.
What these far right leaders would like to promote a vision for a Europe made up of nation states, ethno-states to be precise. For all the clean and laundered language aimed at making them more accessible and palatable, they are still what they are. What they advocate is a reality where you are tolerated as a full human being if you are white, Christian, from the majority ethnic group, hetero-normative, and preferably a man.
It is already a reality of a Fortress Europe, albeit moving slowly, a pace at a time. Thousands of refugees and migrants are consigned to their deaths either through inaction or through opaque underhand European support for those who keep them away. Authoritarian governments silence journalists and tear down courts with increasing ease. From there, the downward slope to packing courts, jailing political dissidents, disappearing protesters may seem distant, but it’s there before you know it.
The step taken in Poland is a new kind of threat. When a politically-disrupted national court decides that it can overrule EU law, going against 60 years of European integration, that poses a direct challenge to the entire infrastructure of EU legislation. It is a step towards dismantaling the European Single Market, and the Union as a space for values of democracy and fundamental rights. How European institutions and Member States respond now will determine whether or not the EU’s rule of law framework survives or not.
We have seen it all before in the history of the 20th century, and in the realities of crumbling democracies in the 21st century, in nearby Russia and Turkey, for example. We should not delude ourselves that it “cannot happen here”. Be they cynics or ideologues, the aim is to win votes in order to dismantle democracy. Use democracy to kill democracy. If we let their vision win out, if we fail to stand up in time, that will be our reality too.
This is not the first time that the far-right have announced a variety of alliances, they have been hard at work for a decade or so. It is also not the first attack by the far-right on the rule of law. Snippets of the shady and murky networks have been exposed of dark money, military hackers, troll farms, and mercenary political advisors who link up and support the nationalist authoritarian assault on Western democracy. A sophisticated and well-resource playbook has rolled out in Europe, in the US and around the world with astounding success. We have seen the Supreme Court instrumentalised for that effort in the US, and we are now seeing a different move in the same vein in Poland.
All of these sophisticated and well-resourced operations stand in sharp contrast to the response from those who are tasked with defending democracy. Government responses have been late and piecemeal, driven by short term narrow political interests rather than strategic vision. That narrow fragmented approach translates into a limited overall EU response. Civil society campaigners have caught on, but are starved for funds and resources. Pound for pound, they deliver efficient campaigning, but face barriers that prevent them from scaling up. What they do tends to be on a shoestring budget.
So what do we need to do? The solution is staring right back at us.
These far-right actors have joined forces and created effective coordination. They paid for advanced tech tools that enable them to get their message out. They used these tools to deploy effective coordinated campaigns and got people to vote for them, often against their best interests. If we want to preserve freedom, human rights, and prosperity, we have to do what has been proven to work on the other side: Bring together those who want to defend democracy, use advanced tech tools for a louder voice, and run effective coordinated campaigns that win people over. It is being done against democracy, it can be done to defend it. All it requires is vision, determination and some resources.
Written by Omri Preiss, Managing Director, Alliance4Europe