The European Citizen Initiative (ECI) “Wake Up Europe!” was launched in October 2015 in light of the increasingly authoritarian policies of the Hungarian government and the inability of the EU to address the issue despite alarming reports from many human rights organisations. The objective of this initiative was to urge the EU to protect democracy in Hungary and help the government find its way back to founding values of the European Union.
Over the past months, we received a substantial amount of encouragement from all over Europe and especially from Hungary. We are grateful for the intensity and the quality of the discussions we had with many individuals and organisations. We also want to warmly thank the numerous cultural, artistic and political figures who brought us their support. We come out of this experience enriched and with an improved understanding of the key questions shaping Europe’s present and future projects.
However, these exchanges also led us to conclude that a European Citizen Initiative was not the appropriate way to address this sensitive and complex issue. This is why we have decided to close the initiative.
Indeed, since “Wake Up Europe!” was launched, governments and movements with agendas close to Viktor Orban’s have emerged in other European countries. This sadly confirms our initial concern: that the inability of both domestic political parties and EU institutions to uphold European core values in Hungary paved the way to the rise of other populist movements claiming simplistic solutions to the many challenges Europe faces today.
“Wake Up Europe!” was never intended to single out or stigmatize the population of one Member State and we regret that some, especially in Hungary, have understood it in this way. When the newly-elected Polish government joined the Hungarian one in its authoritarian path, the EU launched its “Rule of Law Framework” procedure to monitor the situation in Poland but kept failing to do so with regard to Hungary, thereby adopting a double standard approach.
In the absence of a clearly defined benchmark, the decision whether to use this instrument or not is too much subject to political tradeoffs which leads to its incoherent application. This is why we strongly support the on-going discussions in the Council and in the European Parliament to lay down the foundations for a mechanism to systematically monitor democracy and fundamental rights in all EU countries against a set of commonly agreed indicators. This approach rightly recognizes the need to create an early-warning system that extends this monitoring mechanism to the policies of all governments, regardless of their political family.
In the coming months, we will keep working to oppose simplistic populist discourses and policies. In a new a positive campaign, Act4Democracy, we will engage with citizens and grassroots organisations that resist this populist zeitgeist by working every day, on the ground, often in adverse conditions, in complement to necessary EU-wide policies, towards durable solutions to today’s challenges.
Through this action, we will help to outline commonalities in the ways populist discourses and policies shrink the democratic space in their countries, identify civil society actors who strive for a better, inclusive and progressive Europe and help them channel their experience towards the European level.