The State of Liberal Democracy in Greece and Germany
Since its foundation, the European Union has represented human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including minority rights. One should therefore be able to assume that liberal democracy is the more or less obvious starting point for any government in all states of the EU. Unfortunately, this idea is increasingly becoming a utopia that seems very far away in some member states.
In political science, liberal democracy refers to states whose political systems are designed according to liberal and democratic principles. It stands for free elections, separation of powers, rule of law, the market economy, human and civil rights, and civil and political liberties. Values that someone would think are unconditionally guaranteed within the EU.
When it comes to liberal values, Europe is not a homogeneous space. There are repeated restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as on the principle of the rule of law. Although both Greece and Germany are considered liberal democracies, each country faces unique challenges and opportunities in maintaining and strengthening its democratic institutions.
Greece: A struggle for media freedom and the fight against civil rights violations
In Greece, the state of liberal democracy has been challenged in recent years by a variety of factors, including media freedom and corruption. In global rankings on civil liberties and freedom, Greece consistently scores rather mediocre, and the trend is downward. In 2022, Greece landed in 108th place out of a total of 180 countries surveyed in terms of ensuring freedom of the press. In a survey conducted by the German statistical office, Greece ranks last among all European countries in terms of press freedom. It is a snapshot of the situation of media freedom based on an assessment of pluralism, independence of the media, the quality of the legal framework, and the safety of journalists in each country and region. Freedom of expression was ranked 84th out of 180 countries and in terms of ensuring the rule of law, Greece ranked 51st out of 180.
The Greek population also notices the deficits in their country. Already in a survey conducted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in October 2020, the vast majority of respondents are pessimistic and dissatisfied with the political situation in Greece. The ability of the Greek government to address problems is also rated as poor. In addition, the majority of respondents say they believe the press is monitored and controlled by the government. This picture has not changed in recent years. According to the Winter Eurobarometer 2022-23, 88 out of 100 respondents consider the economic situation in Greece to be "totally bad" at the moment. Also, more than 60 out of 100 respondents say that they have rather no confidence in the national parliament and government.
The EU Commission has published an annual report in 2022 taking stock of media plurality, rule of law, free market economy, and political independence. For the first time, the Media Pluralism Monitor has introduced an overall ranking of member states, divided into five risk levels, with Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia as high-risk countries.
Violations of civil liberties and civil rights in Greece are increasing. Whether it is students of a liberal student movement being attacked and injured by masked men at an event they organized, an investigative journalist being shot outside his home, or the still unanswered questions about the involvement of the Greek government in the wiretapping of the opposition and investigative journalists by Greek intelligence services. The lack of guaranteed rights, which should be a matter of fact in a liberal democracy, is alarming.
Germany: Politically motivated right-wing violence and securing freedom of the press
In Germany, too, grievances arise when it comes to safeguarding a liberal democracy, even if they are not as obvious as in Greece.
Germany is generally regarded as a country with a strong and independent press where media pluralism prevails. In recent years, however, concerns have been raised about the impact of media concentration and the decline of print media on the diversity and quality of German journalism. Moreover, there are legislative initiatives that threaten the protection of whistleblowers and sources. According to the organisation "Reporters without Borders", Germany falls three places in the ranking for ensuring press freedom compared to the previous year and is now behind Lithuania, Jamaica, and Seychelles.
According to a survey by the Federal Statistical Office in 2021, half of the respondents are not sure or rather inclined not to trust the reporting of political events. 24% of respondents are even convinced that the population is systematically lied to by the media about political events.
With 80 cases of violence in 2022 against journalists, a new record was set since 2013. The year 2020 was particularly violent when demonstrators protesting against COVID-19 restrictions repeatedly attacked journalists.
The number of politically motivated crimes and acts of violence is steadily increasing. The number peaks in 2021, where it increases by more than 23% compared to the previous year. Right-wing extremism is considered the greatest extremist threat to democracy and the people of Germany. 41% of all victims of politically motivated acts of violence were attacked by right-wing extremists. In addition, the number of anti-Semitist crimes continues to rise. The right-wing populist and right-wing extremist party "Alternative for Germany" repeatedly propagates anti-positions in asylum and immigration policy, expresses derogatory and racist views towards immigrants, and in family and social policy it advocates strongly conservative positions. Although the party is monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, it achieves high results in the 2021 federal elections. It passes the 5 percent threshold in every federal state and even becomes the strongest party in the state of Saxony.
EU action to guarantee liberal democracy
The EU Commission's annual stocktaking in 2022 of various rights describes actions and developments in each member state and makes recommendations for further action.
For Greece, one of the recommendations is to step up efforts to establish a solid track record in prosecutions and final judgments in corruption cases. Likewise, the introduction of legal and other safeguards to improve the physical security and working environment of journalists should contribute to greater press freedom and the plurality of the media.
With regard to Germany, the EU Commission recommends the continuation of plans to introduce a "legislative footprint" to enable the monitoring and tracing of all stakeholders who attempt to influence certain legislative texts. In addition, the plan to create a legal basis for a right of information for the press towards federal authorities, taking into account European standards for access to documents, will be taken forward.
A liberal democracy should be characterised by freedom. The freedom of citizens to express their opinions, anticipate politically, protest, and stand up for their values. But with freedom also comes responsibility. The responsibility of any country that sees itself as a liberal democracy is to guarantee the basic conditions and rights for its citizens for freedom in its country.
Overall, while both Greece and Germany face challenges when it comes to protecting and promoting liberal democracy, the two countries are facing radically different problems, while having different starting points to achieve their goals. While Greece is struggling with concerns about civil and individual freedom, such as media freedom, Germany is struggling to maintain press freedom as populist forces strengthen. Ultimately, both countries will need to take proactive steps to address these challenges and ensure that liberal democracy continues to thrive in the years to come.
Our intern Frowine Meinel, spent 2 months in the FNF Greece and Cyprus office in Athens. During that period, she had the opportunity to be informed about the political developments and the latest news which are part of the public debate. In this context, she worked on this article presenting her views on the state of Liberal Democracy in Greece and Germany.