G-7 Must Do More to Stand Up for Democracy, Top EU Official Says

The Group of Seven nations need to be more proactive in defending democratic values which are coming under pressure around the world, according to the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.

In an interview with Bloomberg and a handful of other news outlets, Michel cited several recent episodes when democratic values have come under threat, including the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January, the EU’s struggle to ensure member states respect the rule of law and the forced landing of a Ryanair flight traveling between two European capitals which led to the arrest of a journalist by Belarusian authorities.

“It shows that liberal democracies and open societies are put under pressure and threatened because we face new risks, hybrid threats, cyber attacks, disinformation,” said Michel, who leads meetings of the bloc’s 27 heads of government.

Upholding democratic values is a key theme of this year’s G-7 summit which begins on Friday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the talks in Cornwall, England, is aiming to persuade its members, as well as the summit guests India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa, to sign up to a charter spelling out the differences between democratic and non-democratic countries.

The leaders are also expected to discuss how to apply democratic values when addressing global challenges, and it is there that Michel hopes that they will talk about adopting a more proactive attitude.

Democratic powers shouldn’t “only react when we are put under pressure,” he said, suggesting instead, “a more proactive strategy in order to promote our values to defend our interests.” He stressed that he wasn’t calling for a total confrontation but wanted the G-7 nations to be smarter in defending their values, including when it comes to relations with Russia. All the same, they should not shut the door on cooperation in areas such as climate change and the covid health crisis, he added.

Earlier on Monday, Michel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the course of a 90-minute phone call he reaffirmed Europe’s position over the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and discussed Belarus, Libya and Armenia and Azerbaijan.

But he told reporters that it’s not enough for the EU to express its principles toward Russia, it needs to implement those principles. “Maybe we need to think, what are the tools that we can use,” he said.Some of the EU’s recent attempts to condemn human rights abuses in Hong Kong and China, or to sanction Russia, have been hampered by the threat of vetoes from member states like Hungary. But Michel expressed caution over the idea of moving away from unanimous voting on matters of foreign policy.He acknowledged that anything agreed at the G-7 would be a signal that wouldn’t in itself solve the problem, but he underlined the importance of sending that strong message.“Remember that after the Cold War we thought in many countries that it would be the victory of the liberal democracies but now the last years we observed that is not what’s happening,” he said. “We understand that we need to act, and not only to react”.

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