Democracy and its underlying fundamental rights are in decline in Europe. In recent years, more and more right-wing populist parties and leaders are taking over governments and dismantling the democratic constitutional state - even in the so-called "consolidated" democracies. They increasingly restrict the freedom of the people living in Europe and shake European unity. Our partnership around EDN supports, empowers and links activists who stand against the erosion of democracy, the rise of nationalism and white supremacy, as well as the shrinking of civic spaces.
Democracy, fundamental rights and the freedom of people to organize, participate and communicate with each other freely to influence political and social structures (the civic space) have always been under stress in Europe and its direct neighboring countries. In recent years, however, dramatic developments are eroding or challenging them fundamentally and the whole European continent is affected. The separation of powers, independent jurisdiction and media, and fundamental rights such as free speech or freedom of assembly are all under threat. These developments are galloping at a fast pace in Poland, Hungary and Turkey and are driven by governments and leaders who apply nationalistic rhetoric, transform citizenship education to nationalism and foster a belief in the supremacy of their nation or culture to manipulate public opinion and mobilize large parts of society. The European idea is pictured as a threat to assumed traditional and homogeneous cultural values and as neo-colonial imperialism within Europe. This not only excludes and discriminates against those stigmatized as “others” but has already seen people being threatened, arrested and disenfranchized for political reasons and liberal thinking.
At the same time, in France, Germany, Austria and Denmark, to name only a few, but also at the EU level, individuals, groups and parties applying a similar rhetoric and strategy are gaining increasing parliamentarian and governing power. Here too, democracy and fundamental rights, some of which were always partially flawed in letter or application, are now again visibly threatened and the persisting democratic deficits in these countries provide a fertile soil for their further erosion. In France, the emergency state is becoming to a considerable extent constitutional normality, in Austria the freedom of communication is being restricted for refugees, in Denmark license plate scanners have been introduced at borders to control free movement and in Germany 92 nationalists entered the parliament and set forth to “save” the German nation and culture. The mobilization against marginalized groups – women, Black People and People of Colour, LGBTI*Q people, Roma people, refugees and migrants – is fully unfolding across Europe, also shrinking the space of those who advocate for these groups. And tightened security and anti-terror laws provide open doors to further dismantle democracy, fundamental rights and the civic space. Hence, we are experiencing a European-wide phenomenon and pointing the finger from West to East ignores the described developments in the established democracies and fuels anti-European and nationalistic discourses across Europe. "In this context, we believe it is necessary to network, to support and satisfy the needs of activists and initiatives who are under threat and who stand up against nationalism and the erosion of democracy, fundamental rights and the civic space – on the streets and in the classroom", says Martin Wilhelm, CEO of CFE.
The European Democracy Network brings together activists and watchdogs, from the European political organization "NytEuropa" from Denmark to the anti-corruption "Hungarian Civil Liberties Union" to the "Citizens of the Republic" from Poland, who practice civil disobedience in government decisions that threaten the rule of law. We are united by the idea that we can only exist in international solidarity in order to counter the internationally networked opponents of the new Right. We work not against something, but for our common values: the rule of law, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly, equal rights.
Through common workshops, we learn from each other and improve, develop , for example, our skills and abilities - in the field of areas such as secure communication and data security, campaign management, non-violent civil disobedience, legal resistance, stress handling, and the current processes and development of democratization or legal possibilities and dangers. We train each other in successful activist actions and campaigns, we support each other in solidarity with common campaigns and engage in joint fundraising. We generate and exchange knowledge in a comparative manner on how the process of eroding democracies in Europe is legally, politically, medially and socially unfolding in order to allow for the development of strategies to counter these developments.
Around the 2019 European elections, we are organizing a series of international citizen dialogues in the participating countries. The urgent questions of Europe should, in our opinion, be discussed jointly by the citizens and common solutions should be found. We bring together a European public, the media and politics in civil dialogues, in order to enlighten, understand and influence society broadly.
The network is open to other organizations and wants to expand continuously.