I am attending a meeting of the Club de Madrid, an organisation of former heads of government working to promote democracy, in Florence this week. The question being addresses is whether, after the 1990’s when democracy was spreading widely in the wake of the fall of Communism, democracy and human rights are now in a phase of relative decline again.

The opening keynote speech was made by Romano Prodi, former Italian Prime Minister and European Commission President, who gave an excellent speech.

He reminded us that having a market economy, as China does, does not guarantee democratic government. The dispersal of power, which is essential for a market economy, can help democracy, but it does not assure it. The Chinese” model” could become a challenge to democracy.

He worried that, if democratic governments fail to deliver acceptable economic results, democracy itself will come to be questioned. 

This is a particular risk in the European Union, where

   +  the ageing of societies,
   +  the absence of structural reforms, and
   +  the rigidities caused by the incompleteness of the euro zone,

are contributing to slow growth and high unemployment, especially among young people.

In some countries, democracy suffers from perpetual electioneering, and from too many veto points which prevent necessary changes being implemented.  Short term thinking predominates as a result.

Romano now teaches in universities in China, and he remarked that, whereas ten years ago Chinese were constantly asking questions about the European Union, they no longer do so. Their questions focus now on the lesson to be learned from Thucdydies, the ancient Greek historian, who wrote about the risks of war when a rising power meets an established one (Sparta and Athens). Clearly the Chinese see such risks as between themselves and the US.


We have before us a series of reports on the state of democracy and human rights in different parts of the world. The reports were prepared with the help of the Bertelsman Foundation. The scope of the study includes 

+  the fairness and openness of elections,
+  the rule of law and separation of powers,
+  internal democracy in parties,
+  strategic thinking within the governmental system,
+  efficient use of human and material resources
+  anti discrimination laws

Generally speaking, the Nordic countries came out best. There were some problems in southern Europe. Among post Communist countries, the Baltic states and Poland had the best record. The situation was somewhat more difficult in the Balkan area.


The countries to come in for the most severe criticism were Hungary, and to a lesser degree Turkey. The findings in regard to Hungary are the most alarming, given that it is a full member of the EU. 
In respect of Hungary, the report says

“The government  has tried to monopolise political power by taking control of a number of independent agencies and supervisory bodies and had undermined the judiciary’s independence”

It adds that Hungary’s new media laws

“strengthened government control over the media by vesting a Media Council, exclusively composed of persons affiliated with the Government party, with control of media content  and the granting of broadcasting licences”

These matters deserve the attention from the European Union institutions.
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