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Radical political change is challenging democracy, warns rapporteur

Democratic institutions are under threat today in many Council of Europe member States, including some founding ones, warns Marie-Christine Dalloz (France, EPP/CD), PACE rapporteur on Fostering healthy democracies in Europe.

At a hearing of the Assembly’s Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy on 30 January 2020, with the participation of Professor Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Michael Frendo, a member of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the rapporteur highlighted the need to foster healthy democracies and to reflect on a clear set of standards and criteria to define them.

Professor Diamond argued that the retreat of liberal democracies worldwide is based on “the gradual deterioration of the rule of law, the decay of traditional political parties – which used to be the old pillars of democratic governance – and the emergence of political parties which espouse illiberal or extremist narratives”. He also spoke of a “stealthy and slow strangulation” of democracy, carried out by undermining the independence of the judiciary, discrediting traditional mass media, side-lining civil society and influencing universities, with the ultimate goal of “demonising” and “depoliticising” the existing political system.

For his part, Michael Frendo stressed that the retreat of western liberalism reflects the rise of a populism which argues that the democratic legitimacy arising from elections justifies a winner-takes-all approach. Mr Frendo praised the work of the Venice Commission and its “Rule of Law Checklist” as a tool that provides guidance and establishes criteria for determining the state of a democracy. He also stressed the need for strong political will to strengthen the pillars of liberal democracy, address the disdain of populists and respond to the demand for accountability and transparency in all decision-making carried out in a democratic context.

The rapporteur concluded by saying that in order to protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the Parliamentary Assembly should continue to study these trends carefully and make relevant recommendations to foster healthy democracies in all Council of Europe member States.