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Last month the European Union institutions launched an unprecedented exercise in direct democracy by setting up a Conference on the Future of Europe with the active participation of citizens from across the continent, alongside elected representatives. Meanwhile, Hungary’s Prime Minister sponsored an advertisement in a dozen national newspapers denouncing the European Union and particularly the European Parliament.

Such a campaign of disinformation cannot go unanswered.  All those who are aware of the origins of the European Union, and its continuous mission to underpin peace and prosperity, cannot remain passive in this debate on Europe’s future. If we do not stand firm in the defence of fundamental values, our Union will lose its identity and meaning. We have to ensure we can protect ourselves from the recidivism of authoritarian regimes by remaining constantly vigilant to attacks on our basic freedoms.

All Member States signed up to the same Treaty upon accession. But some governments, especially the current one in Hungary, are reneging on the basic commitments their countries undertook when they joined and sliding back towards an authoritarian, one-party state that they were so desperate to leave 30 years ago.

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union:

"The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail."

The primary duty of all parliaments, being the people´s bodies, is precisely to defend these values; the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media, as well as to respect the fundamental rights of all citizens, whenever they are under threat. There is no question of the important role played by national parliaments in holding their governments to account, defending core democratic values and building a stronger, more prosperous and egalitarian society, in conjunction - not in competition-  with the European Parliament.   It is our common responsibility to call out whichever government - whether of the Left, Right or Centre - that transgresses the line between democracy and autocracy.  The history of the 20th century has shown how easy it is for the democratic veil to slip, discretely at first but with increasing shamelessness, until the foundations of human decency and the Rule of Law have all but disappeared.

As President Sassoli said recently "For authoritarian regimes, European values are frightening, because freedoms allow for equality, justice, transparency, opportunity, peace."

If the European Union needs reform, it is not because these fundamental principles are outdated but rather because they need to be strengthened in the face of those who threaten them. The Conference on the Future of Europe will be an exercise of deliberation on how we can uphold these principles with more determination both at home and abroad.  There is no European Union without fundamental values. What is needed in these times where democracy and the rule of law are under threat both inside and outside the European Union is the collective push to stand up for those values as citizens, the European and national parliaments as well as the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, and the national governments.  Only by acting together under the umbrella of the EU are we able to live in freedom and prosperity in our community of values. These are the lessons we have learned from over 70 years of peace that the European Union has brought to this continent.  

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Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

We decided to make our service available to everyone free of charge in order to provide access to high quality journalism for expats and English speakers interested in Polish affairs. 

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