THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY AFTER 25 YEARS In Bratislava, too, there is optimism – albeit cautious. Many hope that the election of Andrej Kiska as the country’s President could provide a turning point against the rolling back of democracy in Slovakia. Though the presidential office has little formal power, it has significant potential to mobilise public opinion and could play as a check on the otherwise dominant Smer party and Prime Minister, Robert Fico. Unlike Fico, Kiska is a true Atlanticist. Kiska also repeatedly speaks against the culture of corruption that exists in Slovakia and the overall negative political atmosphere in the country. “The public sphere is now dominated by selfishness, nepotism, political affiliation, strong elbows and cynicism”, he declared in his first presidential speech.62 5. Policy Recommendations Post-communist transition in Central and Eastern Europe took place in a unique context: unprecedented domestic and international support for change. Twenty-five years on, it is time for the often passive EU to play an active role in addressing a number of worrying trends in the region. The split within the former Eastern Bloc is problematic, but not permanent. Now, more than ever, Europe ought to be united. The experience of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania cannot be cut and pasted onto other societies and expected to be a success. However, there are lessons for others from their experiences. ‡Defend EU Standards and Values At the moment of their applying to join the EU, political leaders in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe understood the need to undertake reforms in order to gain EU membership. Great progress was made. Since then, however, some reforms have been reversed. The EU must ensure that the Copenhagen Criteria, which stipulates the standards of governance and other conditions of membership, is enforced for all existing and candidate EU member states. Formal democratic standards, in the sense of holding free and fair multi-party elections, are high, but, many of the underpinnings that define a functioning democracy – such as the rule of law, judicial independence, and the lack of corruption – are regressing. The EU should address democratic shortcomings in a member-state through Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (which enables the European Council to determine “the existence of a serious and persistent breach” of EU values in a member-state and to suspend some of its membership rights, including voting 63 rights) . ‡Foster Political Competition and Inclusion The presence of a strong dissident movement in Central and Eastern Europe forced communist elites from power, in 1989. This set the stage for the democratic alternation of authority between competing parties that serve as a check on each other’s power. To promote democracy, external actors should support the existence of a strong opposition to the ruling political parties; a strong, 62 Slovakia: A New President, The Economist, July 19th 2014, available at: 63 ‘Completing the Legislative Cycle: Scrutiny’, European Parliament, available at: general/resource/static/files/Documents%20section/SPforEP/Scrutiny_Art7_TEU.pdf 13

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