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The boiling frog of democracy in Europe

Iratxe García Pérez has served as the Leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group since 2019. 

We all know the apologue of the frog and the boiling pot of water — if you throw a frog into boiling water, it will instinctively leap out; but if you let it relax in a pot where the water is gradually heating, it will be lulled into comfort and boil to death. 

The same can be said for democracy. No one in the European Union would accept a coup d’état, but some, right here in the bloc, are normalizing the daily deterioration of our democratic values. We see it in Poland, in Hungary, and soon we may also see it in Italy or Sweden. 

Right-wing populist parties have the right to concur and to be voted into office, of course — no question about that. When they use their power to reduce freedoms, undermine checks and balances, control information and persecute their critics, however, then the rules of fair democratic play have been broken, and it’s very difficult to control the damage. 

Yet, we are now seeing traditional mainstream parties and political groups open their doors to such politics — and it’s time for this to stop. 

Weakening democratic institutions at every level — from local to EU — not only undermines democracy, it’s also a mortal threat to our common European project, as we are a community of law. It is the basis of our unity. 

Furthermore, institutions that simply function aren’t enough. A democratic spirit and a deep respect for pluralism and diversity are also fundamental to us living together. This became very clear after World War II, when our Continent was trying to get back up on its feet. 

The post-war consensus to build the first European communities beyond partisan politics and nationalities was based on the firm belief that there was no place on our Continent for autocratic leaders and racist ideologies. Instead, we created a legal system with human dignity, fundamental rights and equality at its heart. 

Christian Democrats and Liberals were part of this historical alliance, together with Social Democrats. And since then, mainstream politics has always respected that pact on values, which were included in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

This is why all political forces in the European Parliament agreed on establishing a cordon sanitaire against the extreme right — so that it couldn’t use the governing institutions to undermine them from within. 

And we once again agreed on it at the beginning of this term, with both the European People’s Party (EPP) and Renew Europe groups signing on. However, these two groups are hosting members now opening the doors to coalitions with extreme-right xenophobic parties. 

The EPP in particular should have learned its lesson by now: by the time it came around to expelling Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party from its ranks last year, the country’s institutions and democracy were already seriously damaged. 

The EPP and Renew must both reconsider their position. 

The time to act is now. Or one day soon, we may wake up to find ourselves in a pot of boiling water.

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