The right to express ourselves, the ability to choose how to live our own lives and to define our own destinies are some of the basic freedoms we have as EU citizens. We should all be able to benefit from a free press, without censorship, an independent justice system and a government that protects its own citizens. Today, many of us reap the benefits of EU citizenship, something that previous generations fought so hard for. Unfortunately, recent developments in certain Member States have proven that these rights should never be taken for granted.
Recent developments in Poland and Hungary are particularly worrying. The Governments of these countries have over the past years taken on a more authoritarian direction. The Governments of Poland and Hungary have carried out systematic offences on freedom, democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties. Stronger rules on abortion, anti-Semitic statements, restrictions on the freedom of press and public service in addition to violations on the independence of judicial systems are only a few examples of how these countries have gone in the wrong direction.
As a response, the European Commission decided to invoke Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against the Polish Government, which in the long run could mean that Poland could lose its right to vote. I fully support the decision taken by the European Commission and have for a long time insisted that the same action should be taken against the Hungarian Government.
In order to ensure that the situation does not escalate as quickly as it has already done in Poland and Hungary, the EU should introduce a rights mechanism that should systematically monitor whether EU Member States are fulfilling the obligations that they signed up to when they joined the Union. The European Commission should publish annual reports of how well the Member States are respecting the fundamental values of the Union. It should be made possible to impose sanctions on those Member States that are not living up to the set standards, such as freezing payments of EU funds. It should also be possible to take a country to the European Court of Justice if it violates Article 2 on fundamental values in the Treaties.
The Freedom and democracy that we often tend to take for granted as European citizens is unfortunately not guaranteed everywhere in our Union. We can no longer stand by and watch as authoritarian regimes systematically violate citizens’ rights.
It is time that we remind ourselves of the fundamental values that lay the ground for our open, free and democratic society. Only through responsible politics and cooperation can we take on future challenges and create a better society for all. That is why I am working hard to pursue a safer, more open and democratic Union where we work together to solve our common problems.