Nearly two decades after the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, the reemergence of authoritarianism and illiberalism in Central Europe continues to threaten democracy in Europe today.
The countries coined as the “Visegrád Four” – Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – have in some respects become strongholds for populists critical of democratic and free-market values. Throughout past decades, authoritarianism was imposed upon the region by outside force. Today, authoritarian regimes from near and afar use new tools such as kleptocracy, corrosive capital, and disinformation to exert influence, discredit democracy, undercut trust in public institutions, and fracture public support for Euro-Atlantic institutions.
These pernicious efforts demand innovative responses from the private sector and civil society to safeguard democracy and restore trust in public and private institutions. In Central Europe, CIPE and its partners endeavor to develop and institute a new dynamic between the private sector, civil society, and government while shining a light on opportunities to reinvigorate democracy from the bottom up throughout the region.
CIPE’s Objectives in the Region
- Strengthen democratic dialogue in Central Europe by fostering robust public-private dialogue at the municipal and regional levels outside of capital cities focused on economic growth and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Bolster trust in business, cultivate constructive capital investments, and strengthen national economic security by empowering private sector leaders to lead through collective action on good corporate governance, transparency, anti-corruption compliance, and business ethics.
- Combat corrosive capital by empowering business leaders, civil society, and public sector actors to work collectively to track sources of corrosive capital, close governance gaps, and identify regulatory loopholes.
- Tackle disinformation by convening business leaders, journalists, and media executives to identify market-driven solutions to support independent media and erode the business model of disinformation through the support of ethical advertising initiatives.
- Advance economic inclusion by developing networks of women entrepreneurs and business leaders from across Central and Eastern Europe.
CIPE’s programs in Central Europe focus on strengthening public-private dialogue between local, regional, and national-level stakeholders, in addition to promoting private sector and civil society unity and leadership in advancing democratic, pro-market values across Central Europe.
In Slovakia, CIPE works with local partners to facilitate public-private dialogue between business and government officials at the local, regional, and national levels and enhance the role of entrepreneurs and small business owners in the public policy process.
Since the beginning of 2021, CIPE partners, the Institute for Economic and Social Reform (INEKO) and the Business Alliance of Slovakia (PAS), published results of three surveys on the topics of:
- The business community’s attitudes toward decentralization in Slovakia
- The attitude of entrepreneurs in the Piestany district about decentralization and the quality of their dialogue with local government officials
- The pandemic’s impact on the business environment
The survey data is informing a second phase of the project slated for Spring/Summer 2021, focused on facilitating private sector-led dialogue with regional and national government officials around the topic of decentralization and economic recovery after the pandemic. CIPE is offering grants to business associations and civil society groups in Slovakia at the municipal level to foster economic dialogue with the local government.
CIPE has been active in the Central Europe region for 30+ years. Some recent highlights of CIPE’s work in the region include:
- In 2017, CIPE brought together regional partners to draft a Declaration in Support of Democracy to assert the crucial role of democratic values and free-market principles for Central and Eastern Europe. The declaration, written by local leaders and informed by in-depth research and analyses, renews a commitment to uphold the values of liberty and prosperity in Central and Eastern Europe and transatlantic partners’ role in advancing democratic and economic reform. It offers extensive recommendations for civil society, businesses, and governments in Central and Eastern Europe to address critical issues.
- In 2017, CIPE and its regional partners were invited to present the results of their work to the Helsinki Commission, the independent committee of the U.S. government responsible for monitoring human rights in Europe and Eurasia, in a briefing titled “Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe: Renewing the Promise of Democratic Transitions.”
Jeff Lightfoot, Program Director, Europe