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International Day of Democracy: Joint Statement by High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell and Vice-President Dubravka Šuica

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On the International Day of Democracy today (15 September), High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell
 (pictured) and Vice President Dubravka Šuica issued a joint statement: “Whether you care about climate change, jobs, the economy, or racial and social justice, your voice will only be heard and your vote will only count if you live in a democracy. In these challenging times, the EU will remain a steadfast and outspoken supporter of democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide and within the EU.

"Collective efforts are needed, together with a new perspective on supporting democracy that delivers for citizens are needed. This work starts at home. Promoting free and fair elections, ensuring rule of law and media freedom are building blocks to create a space where every citizen feels free and empowered. More than ever, we must defend the ability of free and pluralistic media to provide timely access to reliable and accurate information, and fight disinformation. We will continue working to make our own democracies more resilient and innovative, benefitting from the opportunities offered by new technologies. We will create ever more possibilities to engage citizens through a range of deliberative democracy approaches.

"The European Democracy Action Plan sets out measures to promote free and fair elections, strengthen media freedom and pluralism, and counter disinformation. Across the world, we are scaling up our financial and political support for those who, regardless of gender or background, promote democratic participation and inclusion, ensure institutional checks and balances, and hold decision makers to account. We are building alliances with all those committed to upholding universal rights and freedoms, with democratic governments but also with international organisations, civil society organisations, parliaments, political parties, independent media, bloggers, human rights defenders and activists. This year has seen the start of the Conference on the Future of Europe, a unique and timely opportunity for European citizens to debate on Europe's challenges and priorities.

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"The Conference brings citizens into the heart of policy-making in the EU. We have committed to listen to Europeans and to follow up on the recommendations made by the Conference. Their vision can drive the change towards a democracy fit for the future. It is only the beginning. With this, we renew our commitment to build healthier, stronger and more equal societies for all, where everyone is included, respected, protected and empowered. This is how we will strengthen our democracies.” 

The full statement is available online

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Civil liberties

Civil Liberties MEPs to discuss the situation of fundamental rights in #Hungary

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Handshake between Viktor Orb·n, on the left, and Jean-Claude Juncker

Members of the Civil Liberties Committee will discuss the fundamental rights situation in Hungary with Justice Minister László Trócsányi and civil society representatives on Monday (27 February) afternoon.

MEPs are likely to raise the question of media pluralism, the independence of the judiciary and the situation of refugees and migrants.

The government of Hungary will be represented by Justice Minister László Trócsányi. Civil society speakers are: Miklós Szánthó Director, Center for Fundamental Rights; Tódor Gárdos, Researcher, Amnesty lnternational; Stefánia Kapronczay, Executive Director, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and Márta Pardavi, Co-Chair, Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

You can watch the debate via EP Live

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Corruption

#Albania opposition to boycott parliament, defying EU appeal

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supporters-of-the-opposition-democratic-party-take-part-in-anAlbania's opposition leader announced a boycott of parliament on Wednesday (22 February), defying an appeal from the European Union not to disrupt parliamentary approval of judiciary reforms vital to starting EU accession talks, writes Benet Koleka.

Several thousand members of the Democratic Party and its lawmakers have camped out since Saturday in an 800 square meter tent in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama's office, demanding a technocrat government to set the stage for free elections.

"The protest will not be rolled back. We shall not return to parliament unless the conditions the people have asked... are met; a technocrat government for free and fair elections," the Democrats's leader Lulzim Basha told the crowd.

Albanians will vote in parliamentary elections on June 18, four years after Rama's leftist coalition ousted the Democrats. The ruling coalition has since won all local elections, but the Democrats have complained they were cheated out of victory and are pressing for reforms to guarantee fair elections.

The opposition boycott of parliament will effectively stall the creation of bodies that would vet 750 judges and prosecutors, a stepping stone to creating an independent and clean judiciary able to fight endemic corruption.

Rama said the Democrats called for free elections to hide their real intention of defending corrupt justice officials.

Should the judiciary reform produce results by September, the EU has told Albania it would consider starting accession talks with the NATO member and former communist state. The standard of its June parliamentary elections will also matter, the EU has said.

Expressing his regret for the boycott, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: "The political debate should not take place outside, but inside the parliament."

"In particular, it is of utmost importance to maintain parliamentary continuity in a time where substantial reforms are on the agenda of the parliament," Hahn said in a statement.

As well as setting up vetting bodies for the judiciary, the reforms include implementing recommendations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in order to ensure "free and fair elections later this year".

Knut Fleckenstein, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Albania, said he was happy to see 140 "heroes" in parliament when they passed the judiciary reform unanimously in July 2016.

"I ask them to continue what they believe is right (the protest) but go back to work; now it is time to see if who was in favor of the paperwork will push the reform through," Fleckenstein told a news conference at the EU embassy office.

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Bulgaria

Billionaire #Soros accused of 'undermining democracy' in EU member states

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Liberal-investor-George-Soros-800x430The Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros has been accused of “undermining democracy” in several member states, writes Martin Banks.

It is claimed that Soros and groups backed by him have sought to secretly influence politics in Hungary as well as other east European countries.

A spokesman for the powerful Soros flatly denied he had been meddling in the working of European democracies.

But this website has learned of fresh allegations that US aid money may have gone through Soros’ Open Society Foundation (OSF) in attempt to intervene in the party politics of Macedonia.

The US Congress is now being urged to investigate the potentially highly damaging allegations.

American Republican senator Christopher Smith called for an inquiry into whether US aid had been used by Soros-supported groups to fund leftist causes in Europe, including violent street protests.

The claims came to light after a series of emails from Soros sponsored groups were released by WikiLeaks and and a site called DCLeaks.com.

They are said to provide “plenty of damning evidence” to justify initiating a series of investigations into the activities of groups run by Soros. His NGOs, supposedly set up to promote liberal causes around the world, are accused of trying to “destabilize” governments and support left-wing organizations in Europe.

The documents appear to reflect a wide-ranging programme by various Soros-affiliated organizations to influence European, particularly German, attitudes towards migrants.

It is said Soros-backed groups played a “significant role” in lobbying the German and other governments to welcome Middle Eastern migrants.

One example cited in the documents is that of a German think tank alleged to have submitted a proposal that requested $1.8m to carry out OSF public opinion survey immigrant integration.

The leaked papers also cite “successful private briefings” organised by OSF in Berlin, at the US State Department and the UK Department of Cities and Local Government.

Politicians in Hungary, Croatia and Bulgaria, all EU members, have criticised OSF, an organization that operates in 60 countries promoting liberal causes, for allegedly encouraging the wave of migration into their countries.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has been particularly vocal in his criticism, claiming Soros and groups backed by him wanted to secretly influence his country's politics.

Orban said groups receiving funding from Soros needed to be made transparent and identifiable.

"Large-bodied predators are swimming here in the waters. This is the trans-border empire of George Soros, with tonnes of money and international heavy artillery. It is causing trouble...that they are trying secretly and with foreign money to influence Hungarian politics," said Orban.

Further concern has been voiced by former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski who said Soros had a “decisive influence” on his nation’s politics.

“If it were not for George Soros behind it with all the millions he pours into Macedonia, the entire network of NGOs, media, politicians, inside and out … the economy would be stronger, we would have had more new jobs,” he said.

In Macedonia, the ruling party has backed a movement called “Stop Operation Soros”.

Meanwhile, Romania’s leaders have accused Soros-backed organizations of being behind the mass demonstrations against the new government’s attempt to modify anti-corruption laws.

Liviu Dragnea, who leads the governing party in Romania, said, “George Soros and the foundations and NGOs he has been setting up for years now in Romania have fed evil in Romania; he has financed various actions and none of them has done any good for the country.”

An anti-Soros campaign has been launched in Serbia where the prominent billionaire financier is accused by critics of “destabilizing” the state.

Soros is a Hungarian refugee who moved to the UK in 1947.

The Soros Foundation hit back at the allegations, arguing that the attacks on his NGOs came from governments that were failing to address social and economic issues.

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