Freedom Barometer Europe Edition 2018 evaluated the situation between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018 and ranked 45 countries of Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia, while commenting on 30 of them, regarding political freedom, rule of law and economic freedom.
Listen below to the "Finding Freedom Podcast", where the three authors of the publication discuss the most important trends and findings in Freedom Barometer 2018.
Political freedom has deteriorated in half of the monitored countries, while it was improved in only few. The most serious decline was in press freedom, while populism, false information propaganda and autocracy in general were in upswing. Elections are ever more frequently held in an unfair environment, from funding to media coverage. Politics are increasingly manipulated, rather than being controlled by the system of checks and balances. In many cases deterioration of independence of justice sector leads to state capture. Physical and verbal violence against journalists, or even against their families, are tools used to silent criticism, especially in Central Asia, Turkey or Russia. But, occasionally also in EU countries, as was seen through an assassination of a prominent investigative journalist in Slovakia.
In most (38 out of 45) countries monitored there was a decline in rule of law. Among those, in 34 of them the worsening of the independence and/or efficiency of judiciary was the main factor of decline. The influence of the executive on the police and prosecutors is even stronger than on the courts, leading to de facto impunity of people close to the government. Lack of reforms that would enhance the independence of judiciary, but also lack of economic reforms that would diminish the role of state in the economy thus narrowing the ground for corruption, contributed to the situation where there has been no overall advance in fighting graft.
Human rights have been endangered more than in any other time since the fall of Berlin Wall. They are under attack by populists of all colours, so that civil society remains as their last defence. The situation in various countries is mottled. There were, overall, serious setbacks in freedom of speech and association, while some improvements in treating ethnic or sexual minorities, or in fighting against domestic violence. At the same time, attitude towards migrants splits Europe to more or less closed countries and to those relatively opened. Flamboyant debate on the issue reveals a rise in xenophobia and populism.
There were little changes in the economic freedom scores. Most countries fluctuated near the levels from previous years – meaning they were at a stable point in political economy. On paper, business regulation has somewhat improved. But its actual implementation remains as an open question. There is more use of online ICT services by the government institutions.
For some, business regulation is a powerful tool to achieve purely political goals, as different regulatory practices in Hungary and Poland have recently showed. Illiberal regimes tend to undermine economic freedom. They perceive independent entities such as businesses as dangerous. They want to put under their wing all independent state institutions, increasing their clientele network and patronage system, and engulfing the whole public sector. Such policies limit economic freedom even in and for the private sector.