Photo: Screenshot of Financial Times article by Gideon Rachman (Credit: El Nacional)
By El Nacional staff writers
From 10th April, 2018
Spain is in the list of states drifting towards authoritarianism according to Gideon Rachman, the Chief Foreign Affairs Commentator of the Financial Times, the influential daily newspaper from the City of London. To Rachman, Spain is closer to countries like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and others, where autocracy and corruption (“antidemocratic rot” as he says) win over democracy and the rule of law”. An authoritarian bloc is being formed among the ranks of a self-proclaimed club of democracies [the EU]”, he warns.
The columnist justifies the reference to Spain recalling that “more than 20 Catalan politicians could face long jail sentences for rebellion” (the italics Rachman’s). “Something is not right when a peaceful country jails pacifist elected leaders,” he adds.
Rachman fears that the “undemocratic rot” that is being established in the countries of Eastern Europe can pollute the “center states” in a way that “destroys the EU’s claim to be a community based on values.”
Some more veteran democracies in central and southern Europe “are far from having a perfect political health,” he says. This is where he remarks on the Spanish case and emphasizes the Catalan political prisoners. “The Spanish government insists that its courts enforce the law, because the Catalan separatists have violated the Spanish constitution. But something is not right when a peaceful country jails pacifist elected leaders. ”
Next to Spain, he adds Austria (where the Liberal Party, of the extreme right, is part of the government coalition and has already been accused of purging the public administration), and Italy (where the government may yet contain Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega, an unabashed admirer of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he shares an approach to the courts and the media).
These three countries, according to Rachman, show signts that the “undemocratic rot” of Eastern Europe is beginning to command them.
“The most obvious danger comes from Hungary,” he says. “Viktor Orbán has just regained power with a great electoral victory [but] has undermined fundamental institutions of a free society, such as the judicial impartiality, the free press and non-governmental organizations which monitor the government.”
He goes on to list those countries he believes are seriously ailing: Poland (being investigated by the European Commission for undermining the rule of law); Slovakia and Malta (where journalists have been murdered recently for investigating corruption at high levels of government); the Czech Republic (its new prime minister, millionaire and owner of two of the largest newspapers in the country, is being investigated for alleged fraud); Bulgaria (EU officials have recognised that it has a widespread problem with organized crime) and Romania (its government is seen by Brussels as corrupt).
Rachman’s fear is that politicians and parties in the governments of these countries have support in Brussels. Especially Orbán and his Fidesz, a party that is part of the European People’s Party, as is the Spanish PP and the German CDU. These supports “can eliminate many restrictions on their authoritarian instincts”, and facilitate the establishment of an authoritarian bloc in the middle of Brussels that will provide mutual support while promoting their despotic way of governing, dealing with judges, media, universities …
“Having an authoritarian leader at the EU table is no joke. It has immediate and harmful effects on the EU’s efforts to protect its values and enforce its rules, “says Rachman.
Rachman has previously warned of this danger. Last January, for example, he warned the EU warned that its silence regarding Catalonia weakened its position of authority with Poland, a country under investigation by Brussels. Rachman said then that events in Spain reinforced the accusations in the EU of having a “double standard of measurement.” The Warsaw government can use the excuse that “it is Spain -not Poland- who imprisons political opponents,” he said.
Gideon Rachman is Chief Foreign Affairs Commentator at the Financial Times since July 2006. Before that, he spent fifteen years at The Economist, worked as a correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. In 2016 he won the Orwell Prize for political journalism and was nominated as a commentator of the year at the European Press Awards.