Freedom Barometer Index, which for a decade now has provided readers with a liberal minded overview of the state of freedom around Europe, is now published. While it ranks 45 European countries, for 15 of them there are comments with the most important insights concerning political freedom, rule of law and economic freedom during 2018/2019.
Political Freedom Continued its Way of Declining
Negative developments in the political freedom section of the Freedom Barometer 2019 Edition continued to shape political landscape of the majority of the countries covered, marking yet another year of democratic decline. Support to autocratic and undemocratic tendencies in societies, populist rhetoric, manipulation of public opinion and crackdown on independent institutions or even media, were all trends that had a huge impact on the deterioration of democracy. Electoral process is rather an uneven political playground aiming to serve ruling parties than a means to protect, strengthen and foster democracy. Undermining the system of checks and balances and controlling democratic institutions outside of positions of power goes hand in hand with autocratic tendencies, themselves present in the majority of the countries covered by this Index. Media outlets - if fulfilling their proper role of informal control tool over government and institutions - are perceived as “enemies of the state”. Otherwise, they serve as a state propaganda mouthpiece and a tool of control of the public opinion.
Rule of Law is Shaped with Ups and Downs
When it comes to the rule of law, few of the monitored countries showed considerable changes (improvements or setbacks) in 2019. Among bright examples, Armenia and North Macedonia are especially notable.
Armenia had experienced a slow albeit constant improvement of the rule of law throughout the past decade, but after the political changes in spring 2018 this process seemed to be accelerating. The breakthrough was especially visible in the field of human rights, and to a small degree also in the position of the judiciary, while corruption still awaits to be seriously fought against. In North Macedonia, after the political changes of 2017, some expectations were met in the political sphere (namely deal with Greece, accession to NATO) but also in the fields of human rights and in the fight against corruption. However, there are still huge problems in the judiciary and in the issues of „transitional justice“ regarding the pre-2017 authoritarian rule, state-capture and adjacent misdeeds by the former government. The most dramatic fall was Azerbaijan`s, owing to the much worsened situation regarding corruption. Together with declining political indicators, such as media freedom, which itself became almost non-existing, the perspectives are not optimistic. Russia remained as a role model for all autocrats in and outside Europe. Its political and religious leaders have been openly rejecting the very idea and concept of the rule of law, labeling it as „alien“ to national identity, traditions and desired way of life, while claiming that there might be other, alternative, allegedly better ways to achieve justice and social progress.
Economic Freedom Forecast: Mostly Stable, but with Occasional Good News
The overall level of economic freedom in Europe and Central Asia has not changed since the previous year. Economic freedom reflects the current institutional framework based on the social equilibrium between different stakeholders. As long as their relative strength and interests do not change, institutions are stable and so is the achieved level of economic freedom.
The top 10 most economically free countries remain Georgia (32.26), Switzerland (31.84), Ireland (31.15), the UK (30.14) and Iceland (29.90), followed by post-transition countries such as Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Czechia and Romania. The worst performers are Moldova (19.86) and Ukraine (23.54), followed by Greece (23.58), Croatia (23.99) and Italy (24.16).
Free trade has trumped protectionism, and business regulation continues to improve albeit slowly. Regional disparities also remained: welfare states in Western Europe have a lower score in government size, but stronger protection of property rights through effective government institutions and rule of law, compared to post-transition countries in the East of the continent. But geography is not destiny: there are instances in which countries differ from their regional peers. Positive examples include countries that have a significantly higher level of economic freedom than their regional peers, such as Georgia and Armenia (non-EU transition countries); Estonia and Lithuania (EU transition countries) and Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK (EU and EFTA). But there are also negative outliers, such as France, Greece and Ukraine.
The Freedom Barometer 2019 index evaluates the state of freedom in 45 countries between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2019. Check the Methodology Section for more details on the analytical approach.