Hungary became a member of the European Union (EU) alongside nine other, mainly East-Central European (ECE) countries in 2004. Although Hungary was one of the leading candidates from the former Soviet bloc to join the EU after the transition in 1989–1990, this positive view and the advantage that the country enjoyed seemed to gradually disappear by the mid-2000s. Hungarian experience with the EU is quite ambivalent. Economically speaking, on the one hand there is a slow but steady convergence to the EU average, which is largely due to the net beneficiary status of the country within the Community, and employment levels have increased considerably. On the other hand, the Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs) point to shortcomings related to competitiveness, and labor productivity, which indicate some missed opportunities. Similarly, although budgetary deficit and public debt have been under control lately, sustainability concerns still remain. Additionally, even though the country’s prospects to join the common currency area are quite promising, political willingness is still lacking to make a lasting commitment to the Euro. While the socio-economic expectations of EU membership before accession were quite high and rather unrealistic, although economic growth decreased the level of overall poverty, socioeconomic inequalities have increased lately because of government policies. As far as politics is concerned, even the consensus of the political elite to support liberal democracy as a political system and further integration of the EU as a policy strategy have been questioned by the main governing party lately. Instead, a more Eurosceptic tone and an incremental democratic decline characterizes everyday politics, which has led to recurring criticism within the Community, and the eventual triggering of an Article 7 Procedure.
The relationship between social movements and left governments in Latin America since the postwar period has evolved from top-down relationships of populism and vanguardism to more contemporary attempts to blend new social movement practices of horizontalism and direct democracy with the hierarchical structures of the capitalist state and the party system. This evolution represents a long and unfinished transformation in the character of popular struggles, which today stands at the crossroads between referring back to more traditional structures of resistance, and pushing forward to the creation of a new left that can feature radical democratic participation from below as its centerpiece.
The discussion on the relevance of the “inclusion-moderation” thesis to Islamist parties has always been very stimulating. The rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) in Turkey has so far attracted the attention of the international community in a period riven with the intensification of a civilizational discourse on a global scale since the early 2000s. The main premise of the study is that the “inclusion-moderation” thesis is not very relevant for the Islamists in Turkey. Rather, an “exclusion-moderation” thesis has been more relevant for Islamists’ experiences since the 1960s. AKP was established in 2001 as an offspring of traditional oppositional political Islam in Turkey, which is renowned as the “National Outlook” movement. The name of the party very successfully addressed the two missing elements of the Turkish state and society: “justice” and “development.” The party came to power in 2002 in the aftermath of the one of the most devastating economic crises to hit the country: that of 2001. Starting with a very democratic, inclusive, cohesive, liberal, universalist, and fair political discourse, the party gradually became more and more anti-democratic, authoritarian, populist, polarizing, neo-Ottomanist, and Islamist, at the expense of liberal, secular, non-Sunni, non-Muslim, and other oppositional social groups. Election declarations (seçim beyannameleri) as well as the speeches of the party leaders will be discursively analyzed to find out whether there has been any behavioral moderation in the AKP before or after they came to power. The same documents and speeches will be scrutinized to understand whether there is ideological moderation in the party. The focus will be on the latter to detect the ways in which the AKP leadership has so far deployed an Islamist ideology, which has lately become coupled with a populist political style.
Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.
Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke
Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.