Wojciech Przybylski is the editor-in-chief Visegrad Perception and chairman of the Res Publica Basis in Warsaw.
WARSAW — Has Brussels’ blind optimism ever been clearer than ultimately week’s launch of the Convention on the Way forward for Europe? Whereas supporters of the web discussion board converse of a brand new period in European participatory democracy, governments in Hungary, Poland and maybe different international locations are brazenly speaking about hijacking it to push their very own agendas.
If their takeover succeeds, it can flip the Convention on the Way forward for Europe into simply one other digital house taken over by political operatives, exacerbating the East-West divide that threatens to undermine your complete European undertaking.
Proponents of the convention, most contained in the Brussels bubble, appear to imagine they’ll stop anybody, even governments, from co-opting the method. There’s no motive to imagine that is true.
Final month, as a part of the convention, officers unveiled a multilingual, social-media-like platform the place EU residents can put ahead their options. However they left a key query unanswered: How will the convention be moderated, in order that it encourages participation however doesn’t turn out to be simply one other digital misinformation mill?
The uncertainty in regards to the platform’s safety makes it a ripe goal. One of many convention’s government board members is the Polish MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski, an advisor to Jarosław Kaczyński, the chief of the Legislation and Justice Occasion. Krasnodębski has already referred to as the Convention on the Way forward for Europe a chance for Slavic international locations to push again in opposition to the West.
And final yr, Polish Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymański advised the Polish Sejm that he would love nationwide parliaments to have a higher function in shaping the outcomes of the convention. In December, PiS along with ECR companions launched their very own, parallel on-line discussion board, referred to as “Europe’s future: a brand new hope.”
The leaders of Hungary and Poland have prior to now confirmed expert at laundering their coverage priorities by way of pleasant NGOs just like the Hungarian Middle for Basic Rights, Axióma and Poland’s Ordo Iuris — an influential anti-abortion foyer — to offer them a false veneer of grassroots activism.
In Poland, “psychographic microtargeting” companies much like these utilized by Cambridge Analytica have been employed by the ruling social gathering in different contexts. In the course of the 2015 and 2020 presidential campaigns, PiS candidates used automated troll accounts, usually created by digital disinformation specialists contracted to microtarget opposing views on-line.
There’s little stopping both authorities from channeling coverage suggestions by way of the convention within the guise of personal residents or NGOs voicing their opinions. In France, in contrast, that kind of habits would violate strict transparency guidelines for political content material, created in response to the nation’s 2017 electoral scandals.
If Hungary or Poland had been to determine to place their fingers on the dimensions, what agenda would they pursue? They’ll first all search to counter federalist concepts. Each Budapest and Warsaw dread the enlargement of EU powers. Each wish to improve the so-called “yellow card mechanism” — which grants nationwide governments veto powers over EU laws.
The danger now’s that the Convention fails, and creates the identical sense of “lack of management” among the many public that drove Brexit narratives within the U.Ok. A large on-line debate on the basics of the EU, happening whereas Brussels is in disaster administration mode, is just asking for bother and polarization.
The danger is especially acute within the East. Polish belief within the EU has declined to only 50 p.c, its lowest ever. The convention must succeed and present tangible progress, or the EU’s divisions are solely prone to widen.
The way in which ahead is evident: Civil society should converse out clearly, and the organizers of the convention should be alert to efforts by any authorities to carry the ground in course of the place they had been solely supposed to come back and hear.