Europe needs smart policies to combat authoritarian regimes

For decades political stability, economic growth and peace have been indispensable to making Europe a prosperous and free continent.

European Union institutions and individual member nations spearheaded these efforts, liberalizing trade and opening up markets to make consumers and citizens much better off. Increased cooperation and free exchange of goods have vastly improved the lives of millions of people.

As great as these endeavors have been, key issues remain that should concern us all as citizens of democratic countries. The specter of creeping authoritarian regimes is still very real in Europe, as demonstrated by brazen military moves and sophisticated digital and technological influences in our infrastructure and our political establishments.

In democratic Hong Kong, the growing authoritarian state of China is resorting to outright violence and intimidation to quell protests that stemmed from a proposed extradition bill. The existence of Chinese reeducation camps for up to a million Uighurs, the Muslim minority, was long denied but is now acknowledged and covered in the mainstream press after years of campaigns by human rights groups.

The vast surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state, well known to its domestic population, are beginning to make an impact on European citizens.

The vast surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state, well known to its domestic population, are beginning to make an impact on European citizens, and that is a worrying trend.

Considering China’s economic influence in Europe is growing, these facts must be reviewed as we implement new technology. The debate over 5G infrastructure was only the opening salvo. Consumer privacy and data security must be guaranteed, and efforts to safeguard this by taking national security concerns into account when sourcing key technology, as the U.K., France and the EU itself endorsed, seems to be the smart approach.

But smart digital policies can only go so far if we’re not protecting our democracies from real threats.

On the borders of the European Union, Ukraine is still rebuilding after five years of invasion, conflict and strategic undermining by its mighty neighbor Russia. Thousands of Ukrainians lost their lives defending their territory and the situation remains perilous as millions of former Ukrainian citizens now live behind Russian borders. That’s often forgotten. And Russian influence in many mainstream political parties in Europe — not to mention bot campaigns during elections — must be reckoned with.

A renewed focus on Ukraine’s energy resources and geopolitical position in the impeachment hearings of U.S. President Donald Trump only elevates this, and one would hope European countries would remain steadfast in aiding the one-time aspirant for EU accession. Key to this is not only diplomatic support, but also commercial support. Over 40 percent of Ukraine’s trade is directly tied to the EU, but that will soon be eclipsed by China.

Thousands of European and U.S. companies hold strategic interests in Ukraine and even more Ukrainian firms are wholly dependent on European customers. These relationships must also persevere, despite threats from Russia and China.

But smart digital policies can only go so far if we’re not protecting our democracies from real threats.

Ukrainian electrical technology used in conductors and ignitions represents over €283 million (U.S.$313.5 million) of trade with Germany, while German exports of machinery and cars are vital for Ukrainian consumers.

Another such technology is electromagnetic launch technology, a method of propelling jets from aircraft carriers using an electric launcher. President Trump has bizarrely blasted this innovation, stating he’d prefer future ships would revert back to using steam-powered launchers, which were used for decades. However, it seems many European nations, including France, are excited about adopting this new tech, aware of the very real benefits that electromagnetic launch tech promises.

China has already committed to using electromagnetic launchers for its future aircraft carriers and is partnering with Russia to build next-generation nuclear ships. This comes as China has now become Ukraine’s largest trading partner, and increases its investments throughout the continent.

What impact will a more robust military alliance between China and Russia have on ordinary Europeans?

Will Europe allow itself to be outcompeted? What impact will a more robust military alliance between China and Russia have on ordinary Europeans? Only time will tell, and we would hope that our democratic principles will guide us toward ensuring prosperity and security in the same fell swoop.

What remains clear is that European nations must pursue smart policies to combat this rise of autocratic regimes. Careful evaluations of technology imports and standardizations will be vital, as will diplomatic support.

Democratic principles such as the rule of law are incredibly important. Liberal democracies such as the EU and the U.S. need to find a common approach to protect citizens from the rising influence stemming from authoritarian players such as communist China.

That’s how we can continue to support democracy and prosperity around the world.


Yaël Ossowski, Fred Roeder, Luca Bertoletti, directors, 21Democracy, a Consumer Choice Center project

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Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, writer, and consumer advocate. His writings and interviews have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online outlets across the world in multiple languages. He is the founder and editor of Devolution Review and deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center. He was previously a national investigative reporter at He has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) from the CEVRO Institute in Prague, and a Bachelor's in Political Science from Concordia University, Montreal. He currently splits his time between Vienna, Austria and Charlotte, North Carolina.
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