As the countries of Central and Eastern Europe embarked on a program of ambitious democratic and market reforms at the end of the 20th century, there was a powerful sense of optimism about building a stronger, more united and freer Europe. But in recent years, doubts have arisen about the region’s performance in the face of ongoing governance challenges, including persistent corruption. It was clear that action needed to be taken. With CIPE’s support, civil society representatives, members of the business community, and academics from across Central and Eastern Europe have come together to reactivate networks of reformers, reinvigorate the region’s democratic trajectory, and reaffirm the importance of transatlantic ties for Europe’s future.
To this end, CIPE and its regional partners gathered in Brussels on June 1 to launch a declaration asserting the crucial role of democratic values and free market principles for Central and Eastern Europe. This declaration, written by local leaders, has been informed by in-depth research and analyses on the challenges facing the region and the concerns of the region’s citizens.
The declaration that follows renews a commitment to uphold the values of liberty and prosperity in Central and Eastern Europe, and highlights the role of transatlantic partners in advancing democratic and economic reform.
June 1, 2017 – Brussels, Belgium
We, representatives of civil society and the business community of Central and Eastern Europe, have gathered in Brussels to launch this Declaration, to assert our pride in, and support for the progress that our region has made over the past quarter century. Reforms have led to a dramatic and unprecedented expansion of liberty, spurring entrepreneurship and growth. Our countries have made important contributions to the democratic, economic, and social life of Europe.
Civil society and the business community of Central and Eastern Europe will continue to champion human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, entrepreneurship, the rule of law and respect for human rights. We will promote these values in the face of recent challenges, including:
• A lack of independence and accountability in key political institutions, including the judiciary, that can lead to abuses of power and corruption, in turn posing risks to the economic health of the countries in the region, and delegitimizing democracy in the eyes of the public.
• The promulgation of opportunistic economic policies in pursuit of partisan gains, to the detriment of society and the economy, as well as the elimination of checks and balances and ad hoc policy changes, which threaten long-term economic prospects and democratic health.
• Declining citizen engagement in politics and public debate, which detracts from democratic vibrancy, while threats from across the political spectrum to the independence of civil society organizations and media limit the exchange of ideas and dialogue between the state and public.
• In cases where citizens fail to connect the quality of democracy with quality of life, the appeal to some citizens of solutions beyond constitutional democratic bounds, which furthers a correlation between limited economic opportunities and openness to extreme political options.
• Weakened democratic and economic outlooks, which are rooted in inadequate education systems that fail to teach critical thinking and do not encourage civic and entrepreneurial mindsets.
To promote the values of liberty, democracy and prosperity, representatives of civil society and the business community of Central and Eastern Europe, and transatlantic partners, support steps to:
• Reassert civil society’s role in maintaining transparency and accountability in governance, as well as facilitating greater public consultation in decision making.
• Urge political parties, civil society and the business community to communicate and practice democratic values, so as to encourage more inclusive engagement in public affairs and present alternatives to extreme messages.
• Increase engagement with the business community, so as to mobilize resources and know-how in reconfirming society’s commitment to pluralism and maintaining healthy space for civil society.
• Promote policies that improve the entrepreneurial environment to foster growth, strengthen the middle class and boost the number of citizens who consider themselves democratic stakeholders, while creating an open, fair and competitive environment that is attractive to investors and a skilled work force.
• Encourage educational reforms, including in teacher training, that increase the emphasis on high-quality teaching on democracy, active citizenship, current affairs and critical thinking.
• Maintain and strengthen transatlantic dialogue and cooperation on the aforementioned issues.
We now pledge to move forward by formulating concrete strategies and taking practical steps, reaffirming our commitment to open, inclusive, plural and transparent political and economic environments. We call on our public officials to act on this agenda and invite our fellow citizens to become more active participants in our societies, joining us in our commitment to this Declaration.
Learn more about this initiative and sign the declaration here: http://democracyontheline.org/