State of the Union: Issues feeding anti-democratic anger

Police look on as demonstrators hold a banner outside the National Conservatism conference in Brussels
Police look on as demonstrators hold a banner outside the National Conservatism conference in Brussels Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Stefan Grobe
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This edition of State of the Union focusses on three issues feeding citizens' anger with the establishment in the EU and beyond: possible nepotism in the EU Commission, infringement of free speech and Georgia's controversial "foreign agent" bill


When, in January, the EU Commission appointed German Christian Democrat MEP Markus Pieper for a new position as a small business envoy, it sparked an outcry.

The reason: Markus Pieper scored worse than other candidates for the plum position with almost 19.000 euros per month.

The recruitment drew accusations of cronyism, as Pieper belongs to the same political party as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Four fellow Commissioners protested in writing, and the European Parliament in a landslide vote asked von der Leyen to rescind the hire.

This week, on what should have been his first day of work, Pieper pulled the plug.

He resigned, accusing Commissioner Thierry Breton of boycotting his appointment for party politics.

Things would look differently after the European elections with foreseeable new majorities, Pieper ominously said.

When Euronews’ Jack Schickler wanted a comment from the Commission, the spokesman was not in the mood…

Schickler: “I wonder whether you could comment on either of those allegations he made…”

Eric Mamer, EU Commission spokesman: “No! is my answer. You have a follow-up?”

Sometimes Brussels can be hard on you!

That’s an experience that participants of a Europe-wide far-right nationalist gathering made this week.

The likes of Viktor Orban and “Mr. Brexit” Nigel Farage were invited speakers, but the organizers struggled to find a venue in Brussels willing to host them.

When they finally found one, police moved in to shut it down, acting on an order by the local mayor.

But then the highest Court in the Belgian capital allowed the meeting to take place the following day.

Farage saw the whole incident as a political hit job: “What has happened here is now on the stage where there is global media, we can see, that legally held opinions from people who are going to win national elections is no longer acceptable here, in Brussels, the home of globalism."

What the Pieper affair and the arm-twisting over the far-fight conference have in common is that parts of the population see them both as a powerplay by the establishment.

They point at possible nepotism and infringement of free speech as evidence that our existing democratic system is, well, rotten.


Researchers have recently found out that there is a growing number of citizens in democracies worldwide who are fed up with democracy, especially elections, and want something else.

We spoke to Kevin Casas-Zamora, secretary general of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) based in Stockholm.

Euronews: So, your latest Perceptions of Democracy Survey has found that voters around the world show widespread skepticism about whether their elections are free and fair – who is to blame for this, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin?

Casas-Zamora: I would blame it on populism, polarisation and post-truth. I think that's where the root of the problem is, particularly polarisation with polarisation levels going through the roof. A lot of people are likely to distrust the electoral system if their tribe doesn't come out on top. So this is a big driver. And then in terms of specific people, I have to think that the impact of what happened in the U.S. in 2020, with Trump undermining the credibility of elections, has had global ramifications, for sure.

Euronews: Distrust in elections in one thing, but there is also the apparent desire for a strong and undemocratic leader. What did you find out?


Casas-Zamora: There's a strong demand for what I would call "efficracy". You know, the notion that what we need is an efficacious government, regardless of whether it's democratic or not. Out of 19 countries, in eight of them we find more favourable opinions than unfavourable opinions towards that sort of leadership. So, I guess this is a major area of concern.

Euronews: How should democratic governments respond to this growing skepticism within their populations?

Casas-Zamora: I would say that a crucial thing is reducing polarisation levels. I mean, trying to find common ground with their political opponents to forge broad-based agreements to improve the quality of public services. Because for most people, they shape their perception of democracy in their relationship with the local policeman, in their relationship with the local teacher at the local school, in the relationship with the local judge. That's their experience with institutions. And that's where most of the perception of democracy comes from.

A country that is struggling to reach the full democratic standard is Georgia, torn between a sometimes Kremlin-friendly government and a pro-European opposition.

For months now, despite huge protests, the government is trying to pass a controversial “foreign agents bill”.


When it was debated in parliament this week, this happened: An opposition leader punched a senior member of the government on the head.

What followed was sheer mayhem, not worthy of any democracy.

The bill would require any organization accepting over 20 percent of its funding from outside Georgia to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

Should it become law, it would complicate Georgia’s efforts to join the European Union.

But this is probably its objective.

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