Fresh Report: 2023 Was a Bad Year for European Democracy

The recently published report by the human rights organization The Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) sheds light on the most striking violations concerning justice, corruption, media freedom, the safety of journalists, civil society, and human rights in the European Union. The comprehensive report was contributed to by 37 human rights organizations from 19 countries. The chapter on Estonia was compiled by the Estonian Human Rights Centre.

According to the organizations in the network, democracy in Europe is currently being eroded by three main trends:

  • Exclusion of the public and civil society from the decision-making process. In 2023, significant restrictions were placed on peaceful protest actions (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, and Sweden). Governments continued to pass laws in an expedited manner (Bulgaria, Greece, Sweden, Slovakia), bypassing input from civil associations and resulting in lower quality legislation. Consultations with civil society were often symbolic in nature (Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, or Croatia) or deadlines for providing quality input were too short (Germany, Slovakia, and Slovenia).
  • Lack of transparency and consolidation of media space. Due to restrictions on media freedom, it is difficult for the public to obtain impartial and critical information. Politicians continue to try to control the public narrative. Nearly all countries covered in the report used strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) to silence journalists. Many countries have issues with media independence and the opacity of advertising funding, especially in Hungary and Greece. Governments partially adopted the EU Directive on the protection of whistleblowers, and the transparency of decision-making did not improve much.
  • Resistance to limiting power. Governments do not want their power limited but continued practices that threaten the independence of the judiciary, including controlling the selection and disciplinary measures of judges. Independent institutions, such as local human rights organizations, do not have sufficient resources for effective operation. Corruption is combated lukewarmly or with unsatisfactory results. The implementation of pension reforms in France is an example of the abuse of emergency measures. In Belgium and Greece, political authorities refused to comply with valid court decisions on asylum and border control issues.

Read the full report and the chapter about Estonia.

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