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Eastern Europe’s Authoritarian Return

By building on shared values, the EU overcame historical conflicts and created a space of peace, progress, and freedom. But the rise of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe, together with resurgent nationalism throughout the continent, is testing those values – and thus the future of European integration.

MADRID – The European Union is a remarkable achievement of modern statecraft. By building on shared values, it created a space of peace, progress, and freedom that overcame national enmities rooted in decades, if not centuries, of conflict. But the emerging political rift between the EU’s Eastern and Western members, together with resurgent nationalism throughout the continent, is putting those values – and thus the future of European integration – to their most severe test yet.

In Eastern Europe, democracy is becoming increasingly illiberal. Leading the way is Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been implementing his declared vision of an “illiberal state” for the last six years. Now Poland is following suit, with Jarosław Kaczyński’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party having moved swiftly to assert control over public broadcasting, the civil service, and the Constitutional Court since its election in October. Already, the EU has launched an official inquiry into potential violations of its rule-of-law standards.

The move toward authoritarianism in Eastern Europe has been accompanied by outright defiance of EU-wide quotas for migrants, aimed at easing the massive refugee crisis that Europe now faces. Meanwhile, Germany registered about a million asylum-seekers last year alone.

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