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No power without values: Why the EU needs to embrace political leadership if it wants to safeguard democracy

Sophie Pornschlegel , Clara Sophie Cramer

Date: 09/11/2022

For too long, the EU has been failing to protect democracy and the rule of law within its borders. The Union must cease to ignore the increasingly authoritarian tendencies among its member states, radically altering its approach. EU institutions must embrace their political leadership and become much stricter in the enforcement of values. The longer the EU waits to address this problem, the more it will lose credibility in the eyes of its citizens and governments abroad, leading to further anti-European sentiment and loss of power on the global stage.

These are the main recommendations of the first EPC Jubilee Think Piece. To mark and celebrate the EPC’s 25th anniversary, this series of contributions will pave the way to our Jubilee Conference, which will be held in Brussels on Thursday, 1 December 2022.

All publications will have one common theme: the EU’s reckoning with power. As we are living through a watershed moment in European history, this theme will be explored from different angles. Topics will include security and defence policies, power dynamics between EU and national levels of governance, and the Union’s capacity to act in the face of multiple ongoing crises.

This first think piece identifies the challenges the EU is facing in defending its core values and advocates for a radical change of approach on the topic. If the EU wants to increase its ‘capacity to act’ beyond short-term crisis management, European values must be treated and recognised as non-negotiables by all EU institutions. Fear of escalation and political cowardice are the wrong strategies to adopt, especially when dealing with authoritarian leaders, who instrumentalise every political situation for their self-interest. This paper, therefore, calls for strong political leadership from EU institutions and pro-democratic governments, away from permissive rhetoric.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has broken multiple ‘taboos,’ from the imposition of unprecedented sanctions against Russia to granting EU candidate status to a country at war. It is now time to break another one – for an EU which uses its (existing) power to defend democracy.

Read the full paper here.

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