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Study: Value preferences and political trends in Central and Eastern Europe

Sara Kurfess / Unsplash
Sara Kurfess / Unsplash

Illiberal values in Central and Eastern Europe receive less support than some governments might suggest. Their policies often serve mere power interests. Our study provides concrete suggestions for dealing with authoritarian-populist governments in CEE.

Most people in Central and Eastern Europe approve the liberal values of the EU (Art. 2 TEU) or at least do not explicitly reject them. How can illiberal parties, such as the Polish "Law and Justice" ("PiS") party or "Fidesz" in Hungary, hold on to power while at the same time dismantling the rule of law?

The study shows that authoritarian-populist rhetoric usually serves to mobilise supporters and to secure power. Illiberal positions are particularly popular among three social groups: 1) self-perceived losers of Europeanisation, 2) people with low educational qualifications and 3) culturally and politically illiberal as well as economically liberal minorities of the population.

The hope for a young generation in Central and Eastern Europe that invariably views European values positively is disappointed. Young people are not significantly more liberal-minded than older parts of the population. The divergence from the values defined in Article 2 TEU therefore remains a challenge that European decision-makers cannot ignore.

A majority of people in the countries surveyed nevertheless have a positive attitude towards the values of the EU as well as the effects of their country's accession to the EU – especially in Romania, Poland and Hungary. Hence, they often vote for illiberal parties despite and not because of their illiberal rhetoric.

In light of these findings, the study makes the following recommendations: The German government should permanently prioritise the protection of democracy and the rule of law at the European level. Furthermore, it should make full use of the instruments to protect the rule of law.

The study, finalised in January 2022, is based on expert and population surveys in Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which were conducted between April and May 2021. In addition to general studies of the region, it also contains extensive country chapters that provide background information on the developments in the individual countries.

Team & authors

About the Value preferences and political trends in Central and Eastern Europe project: The consensus on the content and binding nature of European values is increasingly being called into question in the EU. The IEP analyses the causes and effects of this divergence of values in the four Visegrád states as well as Romania and Slovenia.

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