Much of these declines are due to attacks on independent media, which are occurring even in countries with high rights performance. Greece, which has seen a five-year decline in freedom of expression, is facing a massive surveillance scandal, which implicates both the government and intelligence services in extra-legal hacking and surveillance of journalists (IDEA International 2022d). In Austria, which also saw a notable decline in press freedom and freedom of expression during the same period, former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was involved in plans to shut down critical media and purchase positive coverage using public funds through the Department of Education. Finance (Gall 2019; ).
Similar phenomena have been observed in less successful democracies, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Republika Srpska parliament voted in July 2023 to criminalize defamation and made unauthorized publication of video recordings and photographs punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years. Journalists and NGOs resisted the legislation, saying it could be used to restrict public speech (Rapid response for media freedom 2023). In Georgia, which has seen a significant decline in freedom of expression, the ruling Georgian Dream party has overseen increased media concentration and broader surveillance, and used the regulatory powers of the Georgian National Commission of communications (GNCC), theoretically independent, to punish critical and opposition media. (International IDEA 2022c, 2022b, 2022a).
Positive cases exist despite these overall negative signs. In Slovenia, after years of government interference, a referendum approved a law — previously approved by parliament — aimed at safeguarding the independence of the public broadcaster Radio-Television of Slovenia (RTV) (International IDEA 2022d). The reforms include a role for civil society in appointing RTV’s central governing body, which local organizations welcomed after years of difficult relations with the previous administration (European Civic Forum and Civic Space Watch 2023).
Likewise, independent bodies have played a vital role in protecting rights and the rule of law. In Malta, the Audiovisual Authority responded to a complaint of impartiality filed against a media outlet belonging to the ruling Labor Party (International IDEA 2023e). European privacy watchdogs have served as a key fourth branch institution, drawing attention to the potential risks of artificial intelligence and raising concerns about the ChatGPT chatbot’s encroachment on people’s privacy rights. data and the fomenting of disinformation. Such developments could impact countries’ personal integrity and security scores. The Italian data protection authority decided to temporarily block ChatGPT in March 2023, citing friction between ChatGPT and European data privacy regulations (international IDEA 2023d).
When ICs such as civil society, the judiciary and legislatures engage in inter-institutional cooperation – such as the February 2023 adoption of transgender rights legislation in Finland, made possible by decades of campaigning and a 2017 decision by the European Court of Human Rights. —the performance in Rights remains stable or improves (international IDEA 2023c). Finnish civil society groups have long campaigned against medical and psychological requirements for legal gender transitions and these efforts quickly gained traction when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that compulsory sterilization as a gender transition condition violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. a key case brought by transgender French citizens against France (European Court of Human Rights 2017).
However, interinstitutional collaboration is not necessarily transparent. Spain’s sexual consent law, “Solo sí es sí” (only yes means yes), was made possible through mass protests and collaboration between a coalition of parliamentary parties and organized feminist groups in the civil society (International IDEA 2023h). An unintentional loophole in the law, however, led to the release of more than 100 convicted people, as well as reduced sentences for more than 1,000 people convicted of violent sex crimes. Efforts to close this gap in 2023 fractured the coalition, leaving the ruling Socialists to pass amendments in April 2023 that reversed, in the eyes of civil society and the left-wing Podemos party, the main achievements of the initial law (Abend 2023; Hedgecoe 2023).
Popular protests and mass movements
In situations where institutional CIs are unable to prevent the centralization of power or ensure government responsiveness to popular needs, people increasingly turn to citizen action to exert popular control over decision-making. decision. According to the Global Protest Tracker, Europe has seen more protests than any other region since 2017. The most common motivations were concerns about fuel prices or the rising cost of living; others mobilized against corruption or in favor of the protection of rights (Carnegie Foundation for International Peace 2023). For example, in Poland, protests organized by CSO groups led the government to abandon further restrictions on access to abortion (Krzysztoszek 2023a).
Other ICs have been active, but with mixed results in terms of strengthening participation levels. In the UK, unions have been unable to act effectively to block the adoption of a law on minimum service requirements for essential services during strikes, with implications for engagement civic. In Luxembourg, however, NGOs, media and local authorities have all played an important role in publicizing new measures allowing foreign nationals to vote in municipal elections and encouraging people to register in time for local elections from June 2023 (Pointing to 2023; Lambert 2022).
Smaller protests and forms of horizontal organization exist in non-democratic countries and serve much of the same function as in democracies (Morris, Semenov and Smyth 2023). However, governments like those of Belarus, Russia and Turkey attempt to strictly limit the scope of protests and deliberately erode civic space when movements become too organized (Armstrong and Guérin 2023; RFE/RL Russian Service 2023), constraining civil society. In Belarus, anti-government protests between 2020 and 2021 were met with increased repression, notably with the entry into force in January 2023 of a law allowing the citizenship of Belarusians living abroad to be revoked on the grounds of their participation in “extremist activities” (Radio Svaboda 2022; Ilyash 2023; HRW 2021). People remain committed to democratic modes of participation, even in countries where democratic performance at the institutional level is weak and, sometimes, despite great personal risks. Rural protests in Azerbaijan, against prolonged government inaction on water shortages in March 2023 and against the expansion of a local mining project in June, were met with violent repression (international IDEA 2023a; Council of Europe 2023).