Control of the media by the ruling power is one of the main causes of the decline of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. The electoral debates in Poland largely focus on the false referendum question on immigration, despite the scandal linked to visa trafficking which is shaking the administration in place.
By stoking fears of foreign interference and exploiting the informal power of the media, Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is taking inspiration from his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, suggesting a scenario worrying for the quality of elections. This campaign comes against a backdrop of legal action taken by the EU against Poland due to its persistent disregard for democratic norms and the fundamental values of the European bloc.
Indeed, the European Commission has launched the first activation of the rule of law conditionality mechanism against Poland and Hungary. This procedure aims to protect the budget and financial interests of the EU against violations of the rule of law by one of its members.
Weaken checks and balances and democratic institutions
The European Commission is currently withholding around €30 billion in structural funds from the government of Viktor Orban, while Poland was denied access to more than 35 billion euros in assets linked to the Covid-19 recovery plan. But this new determination to use funds as leverage will not bend either Fidesz or PiS if it is not accompanied by real political will from the European Council and the European Commission to enforce the rules.
Few Europeans know to what extent Orban’s Fidesz and Kaczynski’s PiS twist the rules of the game in order to weaken checks and balances and undermine democratic institutions in their countries. This is not surprising, since neither employs overtly oppressive methods to achieve these goals. Rather, they use the law to serve their authoritarian goals.
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Each of the two countries achieves this in a different way. In Poland, political favoritism and nepotism installed an unprecedented number of PiS allies in high-level state positions in a non-transparent manner, allowing Kaczynski to maintain his fragile coalition.
State control over key economic sectors
In Hungary, state resources, distributed largely from the top, favor Viktor Orban’s personal network. The result is a total monopolization of the State and key economic sectors. The two parties have one thing in common: they both exercise power by taking over the media and using powerful individuals and state-owned companies to silence independent media.
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