Attitude wanted: how the EU deals with autocracies

The poisoning of Alexei Navalny and Minsk's brutal treatment of members of the opposition have upped pressure for a joint reaction in Brussels. Commentators seize the occasion to reflect on how the EU positions itself in relation to autocratic rulers. Which standards apply to which countries, and might the EU not itself be promoting some unjust regimes?

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La Repubblica (IT) /

Despotes taking advantage of the West's weakness

Russia, Belarus and Turkey are no longer even trying to conceal the autocratic nature of their regimes, columnist Ezio Mauro complains in La Repubblica:

“Clearly, in these three countries the threshold that previously hid the despotism of these regimes has been crossed. Those in power now believe they can show their true colours without having to fear domestic or international consequences. They've removed their masks because the moment is propitious and because something has happened in the world. That something is the weakness of the West and of democracy as its raison d'etre, its political nature and its cultural vision.”

Népszava (HU) /

Dictators only understand one language

The West is gradually learning how to deal with autocrats, Népszava comments:

“The EU is also responsible for the fact that several politicians have built up genuine dictatorships. Due to its refugee pact with Turkey, the EU has only cautiously reprimanded Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his anti-democratic measures. ... Although it introduced sanctions against Russia after the occupation of Crimea in 2014, these have had little effect. And after the rigged election in Belarus, the EU is now preparing punitive measures with which Lukashenka can live quite happily. One can get the feeling that dictators can get away with anything. ... The very fact [that the discontinuation of Nord Stream 2 is up for discussion] is a sign that the West is slowly realising that dictators only speak their own language. It is only when they are threatened that they pull back.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

Double standards

At least the EU is thinking of taking action in Russia and Belarus, Middle East expert Alberto Negri criticises in Il Manifesto:

“There is no talk, however, of sanctioning Saudi Arabia - a country that systematically violates human rights - or the United Arab Emirates, which together with Riyadh brought war to Yemen and killed thousands of people with fighter bombers bought from the US, equipped with German incendiary bombs made in Sardinia. These bloodthirsty, anti-democratic monarchies are also our best friends today because they've made peace with Israel or are willing to do so. And together with Egypt they want to forge an alliance between Israel and Arab states to bring order to the Middle East. A kind of Arab Nato that is supposed to keep the Ayatollahs' Iran and Erdoğan's Turkey in check.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Poland and Hungary: elected mafia

Brussels is currently struggling to adopt a stance towards its own member states, particularly Hungary and Poland. The daily Gazeta Wyborcza casts about for a suitable description of the systems of government in place in the two countries:

“An autocrat elected in free elections (or in the case of Poland, his puppet) is given carte blanche to govern as he sees fit. The state is transformed into a clan in which the ruler 'distributes power and money among the others' (Masha Gessen). It is a mafia where the godfather sometimes submits to elections within the family.”