#DemocracyUnderPressure: what is JEF’s campaign all about?

, by Executive Board, JEF Europe

#DemocracyUnderPressure: what is JEF's campaign all about?
Gagging a statue is a protest against a lack of freedom of expression - and a lack of democracy in general. Graphic by JEF Europe.

Since 2006, the Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) have been organising the “Free Belarus Action” to raise awareness about the Lukashenko regime, characterised as the “last dictatorship” in Europe. The threat to democracy is unfortunately coming from various groups and situations all over the continent. In 2014 therefore, the “Free Belarus” campaign was rebranded as “Democracy Under Pressure”, to address the challenges to fundamental democratic values such as freedom of speech and rule of law not only in Belarus, but across Europe. The overall goal of the campaign is to draw attention to the systematic weakening of democratic values, to raise awareness about the situation in several European countries, as well as to show solidarity within our own JEF family.

From 16th-22nd March 2020, speak up for those who are silenced.

When the Founding Fathers and Mothers set out to establish what would become today’s European Union, the objective was clear: “the realisation of the first concrete foundation of a European Federation, indispensable to the preservation of peace”. The EU was born out of the wars that had torn apart the communities that make up its Member States: political integration would make the possibility of war physically impossible, so that such tragic events would never repeat themselves. And yet, for years now, a spectre has been haunting Europe. Illiberal, nationalist and authoritarian temptations have spread across national governments and our society. In many countries human rights are steadily undermined by those who are supposed to safeguard them: freedom of press, of assembly and association; the independence of the judiciary and the Rule of Law; our very own European democratic structures are under pressure, being twisted and drained of their substance.

The EU lives, sadly, in contradiction. While strict compliance with the fundamental values of the EU is required in order to become a Member State , there is no way to guarantee that current Member States adhere to those very same values. Even the infamous “Article 7” framework is both too drastic as a first solution, and near-impossible to trigger once the damage is done. Respect for European values must be truly woven into the fabric of the European Union: it is an essential precondition for the development of a truly European democracy. National leaders must act, by getting behind the European Parliament and proposing the introduction of a European Review Mechanism on Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (DRF) to which Member States’ Governments should periodically submit themselves.

In today’s Europe there is no party and no country that can afford complacency. Those who wish our societies harm are not in uniforms but in suits; they are not on battlefields but in boardrooms; they play not just to hate but to apathy and they will exploit every opening they find. We therefore call on every European, of every party and every country, to remember their duty to be vigilant. We firmly say: the Rule of Law is not a chip for political bargaining.

Yes, Europe has safeguarded and promoted peace within and without its borders for the past 70 years, but the future does not look as promising. For the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe to achieve meaningful results, we cannot ignore that Europe has grown, in recent years, on unsavoury ground. European integration is but a flawed effort if it is not underpinned by full and continuous respect of basic fundamental rights.

As Young European Federalists, we stand firm with our fellow Europeans. An attack on the Rule of Law in one country is an attack on our own. We will show equal resolve in exposing, condemning, resisting, and challenging those who wish us harm whether they strike at the fringes of Europe or at its heart. When democracy is under pressure and the future of the continent is being taken away from us, we speak up for those who are silenced.

When those in power are tempted by illiberalism, we choose the rule of law. When those in power are tempted by authoritarianism, we choose democracy. When those in power are tempted by nationalism, we choose Europe.

The campaign will be implemented two-fold: a (social) media part and a part with action on the ground.

SPEAK OUT FOR DEMOCRACY: you can use the hashtag #DemocracyUnderPressure to share information, news, press releases, photos, videos, boomerangs etc. By doing so, we aim to draw a lot of attention to our campaign and make the hashtag a trend.

CONVENTIONAL MEDIA: Share the press release, feel free to translate it, share the statement with national and local media. Check out The New Federalist’s special feature on democracy, with a range of articles, podcasts and videos.

LOCAL ACTION: In addition to social media engagement, a successful campaign should also involve and activate people on the ground. JEFers will be engaged in street actions (such as gagging statues; clapping for democracy following the examples of people reacting to Belarus regime) and events covering topics under the scope of the Democracy Under Pressure campaign on broader and specific related issues in different countries.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED WHILE MEASURES TO REDUCE COVID-19 ARE IN FORCE: You can get involved with #DemocracyUnderPressure also while measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are in force. If you are in one of the “red zones”, please stay safe and follow the indications of International Institutions and National Authorities. Check out our special Democracy Under Pressure Facebook group for more information.

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