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Europe’s democracy and security weight on the June 2024 ballot

European democracy and security are under threat. The Russian invasion of Ukraine launched on 24 February 2022 has not only been an aggression against an independent and sovereign country. More importantly, it has been an assault on democracy and democratic values, symbolised by Ukrainians’ striving for their European future. Safeguarding the achievements of the 20th-century European integration and opening the EU to the Eastern candidate countries will depend on the ability of political and policy leaders to define new ways of conducting European affairs to protect democracy and provide security on the continent. In this effort, the upcoming June 2024 European election will be of critical importance.

The war has exposed weaknesses in the European security system. Underinvested armed forces, lack of coordination and specialisation among European countries, and political differences between Atlanticist (NATO-oriented) and Europeanist (EU-sovereignty-oriented) camps give a gloomy picture of the EU’s security prospects. Importantly, the European states lack the political commitment to improve the decision-making process within security matters in the EU. They are also unable to make the most of already existing political instruments, such as the Treaty of Lisbon’s mutual defence clause.

The threat to European democracy and values also comes from within. Authoritarian forces in Poland and Hungary are undermining fundamental democratic principles upon which the EU was founded. Once striving for their European dream, led by remarkable political figures, like Professor Bronisław Geremek and Árpád Göncz, these Central and Eastern European countries embarked on the authoritarian path led by backward-oriented politicians. Western Europe does not remain untouched by these tendencies–France, Italy, Austria, and Sweden are among those countries affected by the tide of populist forces.

Following these external and internal factors, the European project, based on the foundations of peace, needs to pivot within its major policies. This includes the significance of security and defence, as well as the place that democracy, which is inseparably linked to peace, has in its overall architecture.

Changes have already begun. In the 2022 State of the Union address, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, qualified the Russian invasion as an attack on European values and found it an assault of “autocracy against democracy”. The EC President went further, denouncing “autocracy’s Trojan horses” within the EU.

Already in 2020, the EC proposed the European Democracy Action Plan, aimed at increasing the resilience of European democracies from within. With a Defence of Democracy Package, proposed in 2022, it intended to defend democracy by addressing external interference in the EU’s democratic processes. The EU and NATO are also expanding their cooperation, as marked by the third Joined EU-NATO Declaration, and taking corresponding measures to “tackle common challenges”.

In the 2024 election, Europeans themselves will also seek to respond to these internal and external threats to Europe’s democracy and security. With the expected increase in the political weight of far-right and populist parties in the European Parliament, who question the foundations of European integration, the momentum for expanding EU policies on democracy and security may be halted. Whether the European Union will come out stronger, more democratic, and more secure from this election will be on the ballot in the June election.

Wojciech Białożyt is an EU policy analyst and think tank executive with extensive experience gained in Poland and on the European Union level. Most recently, he served as Policy Development Adviser on democracy and security at the ALDE Party in Brussels, advising political leadership of ALDE at the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since 2019, he serves as a Member of the Management Board of the Bronisław Geremek Foundation in Warsaw, a body named after Poland's democracy architect and visionary European.

All opinions expressed in the blog section are solely of the authors.