The Autocrat Problem – The New York Times

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The European Union seems to be functioning better than the United States in some big ways right now. Europe has been far more successful in subduing the coronavirus. It has also passed a recent economic stimulus bill, while the U.S. Congress has not.

But Europe has a major problem.

It has a rising autocratic movement that the continent’s leaders have no clear strategy for confronting. If anything, the pandemic has strengthened the most autocratic E.U. governments, in Hungary and Poland. Other countries have put a higher priority on fighting the virus and helping the economy than trying to stop the erosion of democracy.

As my colleague Matina Stevis-Gridneff, who covers the European Union from Brussels, told me, “The leading E.U. member states have been willing to partly turn a blind eye to achieve realpolitik gains right now.”

The background: Hungary’s governing party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has undermined democracy by changing election rules, packing the courts with allies and insisting on uncritical media coverage. Orban has used the virus as an excuse to centralize authority even further.

“In the long run, it seems to me, rule of law issues will undermine the E.U.,” Steven Erlanger, The Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe, says.

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