Policy paper 275

European values. A debate to be clarified, a struggle to be fought

Citer cet article:
Chopin T. & Macek L. 2022. “European values. A debate to be clarified, a struggle to be fought”, Policy paper, Paris: Jacques Delors Institute, 6 April.


For several years now, liberal democracy has been challenged in Europe and elsewhere, in particular under pressure from national-populist and extremist political forces. Opinion polls demonstrate a growing public dissatisfaction with how democracy operates: endangered democratic freedoms, “illiberal democracy”, a risk of democratic “deconsolidation” or “regression”, a “populist century”, etc. are just some expressions which aim to bear witness to these changes within liberal democracies.

Outside the European Union, against a backdrop of authoritarian, dictatorial and totalitarian regimes asserting themselves worldwide, particularly in China, the reversion to violence in Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlights the key role of the fight between liberal democracy and an authoritarian regime, which is in practice increasingly dictatorial, with fascistic characteristics and even rhetoric with totalitarian undertones. The tragedy of the war in Ukraine is a democratic opportunity, as it forces us to consider our most deeply-rooted values, the society model in which we wish to live and the price we are willing to pay to live in free and open societies.

Yet, as Jacques Delors commented: “The fight [for values] is not very clear as it sometimes gets dressed up as a conflict between modernists and those who look back towards the past”. In other words, the debate on the issue of “European values” is often marred by the confusion between legal and political aspects on the one hand, and cultural and societal on the other. This confusion leads to adverse effects and undermines the reach of any effort to combat those seeking to thwart the founding values of liberal democracy.

In view of this, the aim of this paper is specifically to make a modest attempt to clarify the terms of this thorny issue, which is a necessary step to heighten the efficacy of any strategy striving to defend the values of liberal democracy at the foundation of the European Union. The following sections aim to: define as clearly as possible the fundamental “political values” placed at the heart of the European political project (1.), to put into perspective challenges to these values in a bid to disprove the rhetoric that asserts the commonplace nature of illiberalism, without overstating the East-West divide on this issue (2.), to contribute to providing elements of methodology for a strategy aimed at the successful “cultural” fight over European political values (3.).