Is a "Putinization" of central and eastern Europe underway? The head of the German parliament's Europe committee, Günter Krichbaum, says no - but sees plenty of reason for concern.
DW: How do you assess developments in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis? Critics warn of a "Putinization" of these countries and a drift eastward. Is Russian influence turning back the clocks?
Gunter Krichbaum: First, we should clarify what we associate with the term "Putinization." If we include growing Russian influence on the interior and foreign policy decisions of certain EU countries, then I cannot see such a development. Quite the opposite - since all 28 EU states have, step by step, have increased sanctions against Russia. In Romania, for example, reservations about Moscow and pan-Slavic fantasies are traditionally very considerable. With the frozen conflict in Transnistria, Romania also has a conflict caused by Russia right on its doorstep.
Through the annexation of Crimea, the overall security architecture of the region has now changed. So Putin definitely cannot hope for support or even sympathy here. Moreover, the countries of central and eastern Europe can see very clearly that EU and NATO membership protect them from Putin's aggression. Had Ukraine been a member of the EU or NATO, Russia would probably not have risked annexing Crimea illegally. None of the central and eastern European, EU and NATO members are yearning to belong to the Warsaw Pact again!
The Warsaw Pact is history, but there are economic constraints that affect the policies of these states.
Of course, the individual EU states are connected in different ways to Russia economically. Thus, some countries are still 100 percent dependent on Russian energy supplies. We must take that into account, of course, and help to reduce this dependence. If a Hungarian prime minister, due to his country's close economic ties to Russia, publicly doubts the meaning and purpose of EU sanctions - which he backed in the European Council, mind you - then that does not create a good image of the internal cohesion of the EU on this issue.
However, if by "Putinization" you mean dubious domestic political tendencies in individual member states of the EU, I find the term unfortunate. Not one of the heads of state and government in Romania, Bulgaria or Hungary is comparable to Putin, his power politics and his authoritarian rule. Despite some blemishes, each has arisen via democratic elections. However, I won't deny that some developments in these countries are cause for concern.
Which developments? Why don't we start with Romania?
Here, for example, a cold, constitutional coup was thwarted two years ago, and only through a massive intervention by the European Commission. Or even the whole plan to lift a 45-day ban on municipal officials changing party affiliation. It wasn't by chance, of course, that this happened just before the presidential election - and is clearly intended to influence the election.
What's the situation like in Bulgaria?
Now, after months-long protests, we're looking at early parliamentary elections there. The trigger for this was not only the poor economic situation, but also the unrestrained distribution of government posts to incompetent partisans of the government. Such behavior threatens democracy, since the citizens lose confidence in the state, and populists therefore have an easy time.
Hungary's the third country under fire.
In Germany especially, Hungary's at the center of the criticism. Much of what is criticized here must be differentiated. If 45 percent of the vote can achieve a two-thirds majority in [Hungary's] parliament, it is criticized. But when, due to British majority voting, many votes fall by the wayside, nobody voices doubts, conversely, about democracy there. We should therefore be mindful of false reflections.
But I also see worrying trends in Hungary. Take the new media law - the latest attempt to get the media more strictly under control - which the EU Commission has prevented. Now, a new law appears to be an attempt to achieve the original goals through other means. Apparently, many actors in Budapest do not really understand why the Commission intervened, or don't take the EU seriously.
What can the EU undertake in order to stop the anti-democratic tendencies?
What I personally have in mind - similar to the Commission's EU Justice Scoreboard or our European Semester - is a regular monitoring of the development of democracy and fundamental rights in all EU member states. This could be carried out by the European fundamental rights agency in Vienna at the request of the EU Commission.
Gunter Krichbaum of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) heads the German parliament's European affairs committee.