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22. 2. 2016

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The Institute for Politics and Society organized an additional public debate on the “Growing East-West Divide,” this time in Prague. The Institute welcomed Ryszard Petru, the Chairman of Nowoczesna (“Modern”) and opposition leader in the Polish Parliament, and Pavel Telička, the second Vice-President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament.

The debate provided the opportunity to understand the current issues surrounding this East-West divide through both Czech and Polish perspectives. With the EU facing multiple crises, populist leaders are gaining ground in national governments, especially in Central Europe, causing them to distance themselves from liberal democracy. Moreover, limiting the institutions that are essential to democracy such as private media and the constitutional courts. But what is the reason for this growing division between the East and the West and why now?

Mr. Petru believes the migration crisis and difference in approaches has returned the East-West divide to the agenda. For eastern European countries, solving the refugee crisis is an issue that is not being dealt with adequately. There is fear within these countries that has given more power to populist parties and is further fueling the spread of Euroscepticism. However, he firmly believes that the situation in Poland is only temporary and the actions taken are not in line with the promises made during the campaigns. Furthermore, Petru argues that the East-West divide is a political problem (not economic) and time will tell us more about what is happening and how to best handle the situation.

Mr. Telička, however, claims division is a result of marginalization and an increasingly fragmented EU. The EU is lacking the ability to be a real global leader and its failures are creating tensions between member states. Telička argues that there are no concrete division lines (old-new, north-south, east-west) but the EU is severely “fragmented and a polarized mess”, lacking leadership, solidarity, and coherence. Furthermore, the rise of populism has resulted in countries turning inward, thus, marginalizing themselves. Finally, the division between likeminded countries is there and it should be perceived as a legitimate threat to the stability of the EU.