Hungary and the crisis of Europe
Judging from population, natural resources, and human capital, the European Union should be the leading power of the world. For the moment, however, its stagnation obstructs its potential leadership.
(Titled "Hungary and the crisis of Europe", Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has written a piece for the Hungarian Review detailing the current state of Europe and the European Union. It delves deep into the issues facing Europeans and what can be done to tackle the problems we now face. The full text is available below and over at the Hungarian Review.)
What we call the European Project has been stopped in its tracks. We have a monetary union, and we have taken a few tentative steps towards some kind of political union, but we have no tax or fiscal union – no debt financing union – to go with it. And that is likely to remain the case.
When we did the math to forecast the financial burden of mutualising state debts, banking obligations, and pension risks, we concluded that even the German economy might not be able to sustain it in a common tax-and-welfare system. All that is bad enough. Worse, however, the EU is faced with a series of unexpected crises of the Euro, illegal migration, and geo-politics that threaten it with disintegration.
This is a gloomy diagnosis, the more so because this stagnation comes on the heels of many years of mostly steady progress. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, successive waves of enlargement and vertical enrichment meshed like the teeth of a zipper. Our most elated moments came with our revolutions in 1989-90 and German unification in 1990, and the accession of East Central Europe in 2004.
Then something snapped in 2005. In a referendum, the citizens of two founding states rejected the Treaty that would have established a Constitution for Europe.
Unlike in Denmark and Ireland, voters in France and the Netherlands did not even consider giving the proposal, slightly modified, a second chance. The dynamism of integration was brought up short.
By the time an attempt to fix the situation was made through the Lisbon Treaty – with its somewhat over-rosy vistas –, we had become overwhelmed by global economic crisis. The European elite, formerly legitimized by economic success, entered a very different economic and international environment in 2008. The economic-financial meltdown dispelled the illusion of an EU capable of guaranteeing uninterrupted, even growing, prosperity for all of its citizens. It was followed by the crisis arising from the geopolitical conflict in the Ukraine in 2014, and then by the migration crisis a year later. Fears and concerns continued to mount, while proposed solutions and answers grew increasingly scarce. This brought us to the British referendum. It has signalled a major juncture: the EU is losing a member for the first time – a loss that may well be the harbinger of eventual disintegration.
Instead of tackling these problems in an effort to play its proper role internationally, however, the EU seems to be content to wallow in self-tormenting recrimination, evidenced by its recent controversial attacks on Hungary and Poland. These attacks surfaced around the Constitutional Court in Poland and around the Constitution itself in Hungary. It is a fact affirmed by the Treaty of the European Union – and one that implies a duty incumbent upon the actors of public life in Hungary as well – that the Union is made up of member states, and that the European institutions are intended to advance cooperation among them. Yet the prevailing practice seems to imply the reverse. One has the impression these days that the European Union consists of institutions, and that the member states only exist to support their operations.
Let me suggest three mistakes we have made that led us to this barren destination. The first was to boost the role of the European Parliament. This impaired the operative efficiency of Europe’s institutions instead of enhancing it as intended.
The second error was to enable the European Commission to recast itself as a political actor contrary to its original role as “guardian of the treaties” as enshrined in the EEC Treaty itself – a role that should by definition imply political neutrality. By recasting itself as a political committee, or Politburo to use a familiar term, the Commission usurps the function originally delegated by the Treaty to the European Council, the chief assembly of European heads of stateand government. Pursuant to each and every fundamental document of Europe, the determination of the EU’s future political course is the prerogative and duty of the Council comprising the heads of government and heads of state of the European Union.
These days, that is not how things work. Whenever the Prime Ministers fail to reach consensus on an issue – and the mandatory migrant quota was one such case – it has seemingly become routine for the Commission to introduce binding policy measures. By sidestepping the Prime Ministers, it stealthily misappropriates some of the discretionary powers that should accrue and belong to the nation states alone. This amounts to the self-promotion of a non-elected European institution to a political role, which in turn aggravates a crisis of democracy and legitimacy within the Union.
A third error was when, again with the aim of improving the efficiency of the EU’s operation, we unfortunately made it possible for the Conncil to make decisions with a two-third majority vote even on questions representing vital national interes for Member States instead of by unanimous vote as had been the case up to that point. That is how it came to pass recently that, while several countries opposed the mandatory settlement quota, the Commission, exploiting its byways within the network of European institutions and enjoying the support of the larger states, pushed through rules we are supposed to apply today, and did so with the backing of a two-third majority instead of unanimous approval. Needless to say, we took the issue to court rather than comply.
It seems that the Commission is prepared to continue the practice of adopting measures against the will of at least one third of member states. Let me invoke the Posted Workers Directive. So far, twelve national parliaments have signalled their objection to the Commission’s proposal to revise the Directive. This process is known as the “yellow card”. No fewer than twelve national parliaments! The Commission in effect replied that it could not care less, because it had the required two-thirds majority in its pocket, based on the voters’ share in the total EU population rather than on the absolute number of member states out of the total. So the Commission, snug in possession of the two-thirds majority from the start, will simply ignore the yellow card and proceed in defiance of twelve national legislatures.
These various attempts to endow EU institutions with a democratic legitimacy that sidesteps the member states have been counterproductive in their effect. One result of them is that, rather than having a Commission President elected by the consensus of the member states, we have been divided into a majority and a minority of parliamentarians who choose one. On the most recent occasion that led to the conspicuous slighting of the UK and played a great part in making the majority of the Brits fed up with the European Union.
Today, most people believe that the United Kingdom will suffer from Brexit. There is no rebirth without pain. But it is not the United Kingdom I am really worried about. We are talking about the most seasoned democracy in Europe, a nuclear power, a member of the UN’s Security Council, and the fifth largest economy in the world. The British will find themselves sooner than we think.
We should rather worry about ourselves.
This large community almost covering a Continent will not be successful unless we enlist the people for the fight to subdue the various crises we face. We need every person, every nation and every member state, if we are to win this fight. No institution can ever replace a state. The institutions must assist and coordinate the member states without relegating them to the background. The institutions are for the member states, and not the other way round. What we need is a rational and firm change of trajectory. We must put an end to curbing national discretions, to the idealisation of European projects, to false self-assessment. The EU and its member states no longer possess the clout they did decades ago.
How can we put our house in order? The answer is not too complicated as long as you subscribe to the principle of “unity in diversity”. We must return to the consistent application of European law. We must measure one another with the same yardstick. We must respect the role of national legislatures, for instance by not trying to bar them from ratifying international treaties of paramount importance such as the CETA or the TTIP.
Our community relies on the simultaneous sharing of values and responsibilities. This is illustrated well by the rules of fiscal discipline as pioneered by Germany and the approved system of protecting external borders. 97 per cent of the amounts we Hungarians spent on defending the common external border against the frightening tsunami of migrants since 2015 came from our national budget. And it was in adherence to this rule that Hungary repaid its debt in its entirety in the last few years. At this point, let us recall that Hungary was the first country to seek protection under the umbrella of the EU and the IMF, and the only one to date to have been sanctioned over the violation of fiscal rules. Let me say with relief and some pride that these are now things of the past for us.
It could even be argued that the current European crises happened because we ignored the rules we had enacted ourselves, jeopardizing its two greatest achievements: the common currency and the internal market protected by Schengen – in short, our very way of life and our economic model. By now, the systemic violation of the Stability Pact and of the rules adopted in Schengen and Dublin have become a routine matter sadly – if tacitly – condoned by those supposed to watch over compliance.
The basic concept and strategy proposed by Hungary is a simple one. It starts from the observation that the EU is wealthy but weak. This is the worst possible combination. And it is one that is acutely vulnerable to the single greatest threat confronting Europe – and Hungary. It is a threat that undermines the country’s financial stability, its precarious achievement in modernizing the economy, its national foreign policy, its restoration of law, order, and public safety against terrorism, and its national culture that has slowly begun to flourish again after the long years of Communist sterility.
This threat is mass migration. The year 2015 will no doubt go down in the annals of history as the inception of a new era. 2015 marked the end of an age when we could take Europe’s secure and sheltered status for granted, assured in the knowledge that it was all up to Europe and no one else. More than a year and a half have passed since I myself first warned of the danger posed by a potential new wave of mass migration. Today, that mass migration is an accomplished historic fact, and one which no sane person would dispute.
Why were we, Hungarians or, rather, East Central Europeans, the first to recognise this threat? Several – possibly concurrent – explanations are conceivable. Perhaps it had to do with the tempestuous times we lived through, the shock waves of historic turmoil, the toil and struggle that followed the democratic turn of history in 1990. Perhaps it was that we learned the hard way to be alert for events that have the power to foil our expectations. Here in East Central Europe, when we make progress – if we make progress at all – we move forward with half an eye out for peril lurking from all sides.
Our Western partners experienced the last fifty to sixty years very differently. There, it was all about success, prosperity, a predictable future, and well- trodden paths to a better life. To us, it all seems like a fantasy world in which ideology mingles with illusion and reality. A well-heeled, safe and genial world it has been, to be sure, but one in which outlines are fuzzy, the unambiguous is constantly cast in doubt, boundaries become blurred between nation and nation, culture and culture, man and woman, the sacred and the profane, freedom and responsibility, noble intentions and actual action, and one in which serious perils can be postponed indefinitely.
For the West, “what is” has become increasingly difficult to disentangle from “what ought to be.” By contrast, our perception of the real remains as sharp and cold as common sense. We have learned that the real is that which refuses to disappear even if we have stopped believing in it. This is why we always insist on the real as our vantage point, and never mistake it for pipe dreams.
That obedience to reality compels us to recognise that the second and third decades of the 21st century will be defined by the mass migration of peoples. Until recently we thought things like this could only happen in times gone by and relegated to history textbooks. We would not face the impending danger of an unprecedented mass of people – greater than the total population of certain European countries – setting out for our continent in the coming years. Now that danger is happening.
Parallel societies have been rearing their heads in several European countries – displacing the world we know as ours, along with ourselves, our children and grandchildren. Those who come here do not all intend to adopt our ways of life. Some hold their own to be more valuable, stronger, and more viable. Nor, however, will they be of use to us in our trying to replenish the work force now abandoning the manufacturing plants of Western Europe. Unemployment among residents not born in Europe has been a multiple of that among natives for generations. In most cases, the nations of Europe have failed even to integrate the masses that have poured in from Asia and Africa gradually, over the course of several decades. How can we then expect them to do it so fast and with so many people as the present situation would call for?
Admittedly, Europe is suffering from an aging and dwindling population. But we cannot solve this problem by relying on Muslim sources of replenishment without squandering our way of life, our security, our very selves. Unless we make a stand, and do so quickly, the tension between an aging Europe and a young Muslim world – between a Europe unable to provide its own young with work and an undertrained Muslim ghetto – will spiral out of hand in the heart of Europe.
Ordinary Europeans know this well enough. Recently, in the last year, we commissioned a public opinion poll encompassing 28 member states of the European Union. It revealed that more than 60 per cent of Europeans have no doubt whatsoever that a direct correlation exists between the escalation of terrorism, higher crime rates, and migration. By the same token, 63 per cent believe that migration transforms the culture of the host country. All the while, the European elite continues to insist that there are no such connections. Europe will not regain its security unless the reigning European elites accept a handful of basic tenets even if these happen not to tally with their own ideologies. They are that illegal migration presents a threat, facilitates terrorism, and boosts crime. It repaints Europe’s cultural face, brushing over national cultures on a massive scale. Not until we acknowledge on a pan-European level that this is reality will we be able to act against the threat. But a glance at the documents issued by the European Union on the subject establishes that while urging measures to deal with illegal migration, it has no idea of what it wants to achieve.
Is it, as I would like to believe, to put a stop to migration by halting uncontrolled entry? Or is it, as the Commission would have it, merely to slow down the migration process? For myself I want to stop it altogether because it is a bad thing. If all the EU wants is to slow it down, they cannot possibly regard it as a bad thing in itself, but only as harmful in its present form. EU documents have time and again suggested that accepting high migration levels could solve Europe’s demographic problems.
Currently we are evaluating a package of measures comprising seven elements published by the Commission in May and July 2016. These proposals failed to make distinction between genuine asylum seekers and migrants with economic motivations. Hungary respects its commitments to provide shelter for genuine asylum seekers, but insists that Member States are free to decide whether they want to address their demoghraphic or labour market shortages with migration, as foreseen in the Treaty. As in other fields, if we cannot begin to talk plainly about transparent, clear-cut structures, we will not stand much chance of reaching agreement between us.
How therefore does Hungary propose to deal with this crisis? What principles should guide us?
In accordance with our Fundamental Law, we have a two-tiered obligation to protect the citizens of Hungary. First and foremost, we must fulfil this constitutional obligation within our own borders. Article G, section 2 of the Fundamental Law makes it clear: ”Hungary shall protect its citizens.” Then there is the larger arena.
It is easy to see that once we are part of the European Union – indeed, Hungary is within its narrower Schengen club – any impairment in the security of European citizens will sooner or later harm Hungary as well. Thus when the government of Hungary submitted to Europe a ten-point action plan called Schengen 2.0, in effect we fulfilled our constitutional obligation to safeguard the security of Hungarian citizens.
We must make it clear that there is no escape from protecting our external borders.
This is a binding obligation for every country in the Schengen Area. If a country is incapable of fulfilling this obligation, it must relinquish it to the others. If it refuses to do so – which it may so as a matter of sovereign right – then it will have to accept having its membership in Schengen suspended.
Next, we must take action to ensure that all illegal immigrants are promptly returned to their home country or, if that is unsafe, to one of the safe transit countries. No development or visa policy benefit should be extended to a country that fails to comply with such rules as may be essential for the protection of Hungary’s citizens.
In other words, Europe’s development and visa policies toward countries outside it should not be unconditional but attached to positive conditions.
Yet we cannot begin to protect our citizens unless we know precisely who wants to enter the country and why. In other words, we are entitled to decide and pick whom we want to live with and whom we do not. This discretionary principle is not in conflict with the universal principle of protecting refugees. As Article XIV, Section 3 of Hungary’s Constitution provides, “Hungary shall, upon request, grant asylum to non-Hungarian citizens being persecuted or having a well- founded fear of persecution in their native country or in the country of their usual residence for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a particular social group, religious or political belief, if they do not receive protection from their country of origin or from any other country.”
It follows that, while we accept the principle of extending universal protection to refugees, we must make it clear that we do not want terrorists among us, and that we have the right to handle the demographic crisis as we see fit. This right seems particularly pertinent in light of the National Avowal prefixing our Fundamental Law, whereby “We commit to promoting and safeguarding our heritage, our unique language, Hungarian culture, the languages and cultures of nationalities living in Hungary, along with all man-made and natural assets of the Carpathian Basin. We bear responsibility for our descendants; therefore we shall protect the living conditions of future generations by making prudent use of our material, intellectual and natural resources. We believe that our national culture is a rich contribution to the diversity of European unity.”
Translating the idea into the language of political action, the government of Hungary cannot afford to, and shall not support popular movements, whether in the political or the physical sense of the word, that run counter to the passage quoted above. Neither the legislature nor the executive power may pursue such a policy of assistance without transgressing constitutional boundaries.
Yes, we must help genuine refugees in every way we can. Legal immigration is subject to certain shared rules, but the issue ultimately belongs to national competence and discretion. Rightly so, because the situation of each member state is different from the next. Here in Hungary, we struggle to integrate hundreds of thousands of Roma citizens into the labour market.
As for national demographic policy, the European Union has no powers whatsoever in this area. It is a problem area for us, too. We cannot guarantee that our attempts to solve it by bolstering our family policy will be successful, but we do insist on fashioning our society ourselves as we see fit. This includes the discretion to decide with whom we desire to share our country. For centuries, we Hungarians have lived together with citizens hailing from various corners of Europe. No fewer than thirteen recognised minorities send delegate spokespersons to Hungary’s National Assembly. The Catholic cathedral in Budapest is just a stone’s throw away from the impressive building of the main Synagogue. Several generations have been raised in this cultural milieu, but they were free to fashion their social vision of the future on their own volition, rather than by obeying instructions handed down from a remote, faceless institution.
For us, the challenge of mass migration equals a call to protect our culture, because we are a small country by American standars, and because this is what our traditions mandate us to do. Hungary’s cultural homogeneity – and I say cultural rather than ethnic homogeneity deliberately –, the sense that our culture is essentially cut from the same cloth, with the diversity of patterns subsumed in a greater unity, will serve us well in the future.
Nor is this the first border crisis in which we Hungarians have led the way. Hungary may not be counted among the larger member states, but due to its geographical situation it has more than once acted as a conduit of historic change. In 1989, Germany and Hungary wrote European history together, when we opened our Western borders to East Germans seeking asylum from Communism via Austria. In 2015, we again found ourselves in the limelight of a European debate together. There are things only we can explain – again, Germans and Hungarians together – to ourselves and our partners in Europe. Each day that summer saw the arrival at the Hungarian–Serbian border of over ten thousand migrants who flouted European regulations. These people had already been to and through another member state of the Schengen Area. Given that the responsibility for ensuring controlled crossing rests with those states on an external border, we had no choice but to erect a physical barrier. I hasten to add that ours was the fifth fence of its kind to be built in the territory of the European Union.
In 1989, we had dismantled the barrier that parted the peoples of Europe. Early in the fall of 2015, we built a fence on the external green border of the Schengen Area in order to protect one of the greatest achievements of Europe: the freedom of movement of the common internal market. By doing so, we safeguarded the life style, economic model, and safety so dearly cherished by Europeans.
Protecting a border is not a nice thing. It is not a matter of aesthetics; it cannot be done with flowers and plush teddy bears. For Germany and other centrally located countries, the external border lies at a remove of several hundred kilometres. These countries placed their trust in member states on the periphery, relying on them to carry out the task at hand. This is precisely what Hungary did, thereby protecting Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and all of our other partners in Europe.
Today we have arrived at a consensus as regards the protection of external borders, and greatly narrowed the gaps between our views on related issues. One of them is the need for measures to counteract the root causes of migration. We have agreed that, for preference, people needing our help must receive it as close to their homeland as possible. Cooperation with countries of origin and transit has improved greatly. To the best of our abilities, we have increased humanitarian and financial aid. Nobody has reason to feel let down by Hungary.
But the institutions in Brussels have put their faith mainly in a single instrument with which to solve the migration crisis: the mandatory quota system. The first member state to firmly oppose this measure was Hungary. We have challenged the quota system in political debates, we took the matter before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and we have solicited and gained support of the Hungarian people in the form of a referendum.
Why such a determined approach, you may ask? Again, our approach is grounded in the realities of migration: First, any scheme of distributing migrants will only send a message of encouragement and invitation to the outside until we gain control of our borders and are able to determine who to let in and who to keep out. Secondly, mandatory settlement by quotas will remain impossible as long as the human smugglers or the migrants to be allocated are free to pick their ultimate destination country. Thirdly, this message will trigger a wave of millions of economic migrants. Better standards of living cannot be regarded as a fundamental right, no matter how ardently we may wish to provide those standards to everyone. Last but not least, Europe lacks consistent and coherent legislation to regulate mass migration.
It is not too late for Europe to grasp the gist of General de Gaulle’s wisdom, however. “Politics, when it is an art and a service, not an exploitation, is about acting for an ideal through realities.” As we know, realities are always grounded in history, culture, demography, and geography. Perhaps it is not too late for us to understand that realities are not impediments to freedom. The lesson to be taken away is that no freedom can exist in denial of the real. A world we build around us from the loftiest ideals will remain an illusion if it has no foundation in reality. No individual or community can attain prosperity against the real – only frustration, disillusion, bitterness and, ultimately, cynicism and self-destruction.
A mass migration is never peaceful. When large masses of people set out in search of a new home, conflicts inevitably ensue, because others have already settled the place they want to settle. And the earlier settlers will want to defend their home, their culture, and their way of life.
That said, it is important to make it clear, for ourselves and for the image we project to the world outside, that nothing could be farther from us than callousness. We do make a distinction between individual migrants and the phenomenon of migration. The individual migrant – barring terrorists – tends to be a victim more than anything else: an individual victimised by misfortune, increasing hardship in his home country, bad local governance, our own policies that entice migration, and by immigrant smugglers. We understand that fully. On the other hand, migration in its entirety is killing us. And, as we know, migration manifests itself in a multitude of individual migrants. This is why we have a duty – sympathise as we may with individuals and consider them victims – to stop them at our reinforced borders, and to make it clear that those crossing illegally will be jailed in Hungary or legally deported from us. All things considered, defending our borders by building a fence to keep people out, if this is what it takes, is a necessity. There is no more humane alternative when it comes to protecting ourselves. We must act humanely, within the law, and honouring transparency, but with firm resolve nonetheless.
After all, the migrants are hardly the ones to blame for this. All they are doing is acting in what they think is their own best interest. The problem is exactly that we Europeans will not do what would best serve our own interests. What is happening in Brussels today is sheer absurdity, there is no better word for it. It is as if the captain of a ship heading for a collision were to busy himself by designating non-smoking lifeboats instead of steering clear of the obstacle or as if we should debate how much water should be allotted to each cabin instead of mending the leak.
It is not impossible to put the brakes on mass migration. Europe is a 500-million-strong community in possession of sufficiently advanced technology, strategy, and economy to defend itself. That Brussels is incapable of organising the ranks of defence for Europe is bad news, but that it has no intention to do so is worse still. In Budapest, Warsaw, Prague or Bratislava, we find it difficult to comprehend how we have ended up in a position where we are supposed to allow anyone from another continent and culture to enter without any measure of control. How was it possible that the natural, indeed elemental, instinct to defend ourselves, our families, our homes, and our lands should atrophy in our civilization? Yet apparently it had done so.
And we discovered the fact in 2015 when everything changed overnight. The former consensus was shattered to pieces, and we awoke one morning to voices clamouring for Willkommenskultur and for changing all the previous rules and agreements in order to make good on the promise. The leaders of Europe keep telling us we must help. From the highest echelons of power, we are being entreated to open our homes in the name of solidarity.
If we hesitate to do so, we cannot be accused of callousness. We have learned the principal law of assistance: If we help them where we are, they will flock here; if we help them where they are, they will stay at home, in their native land.
Instead of recognising this truth, Brussels began to encourage people living in some of the most impoverished and hapless parts of the planet to come to Europe, trading the life they knew for something different. How could this happen? I for one am convinced that, in Brussels and a few other European capitals, the political and intellectual elite is pitted against the majority of the people, who still nourish patriotic and commonsense sympathies. Indeed, as far as I can see, the leading politicians are aware that this division exists. If indeed that is so, it means that the real problem is not on the outside but inside Europe. The main threat to the future of Europe are not those who want to come here to live, but our own political, economic and intellectual elites bent on transforming Europe against the will of the European people.
It is plain to see that on this issue the Union is divided into two camps: unionists and sovereignists. The unionists call for a United States of Europe and mandatory settlement quotas, while the sovereignists desire a Europe of free and sovereign nations and will not hear of quotas of any kind. That is how the mandatory migrant quota has come to encapsulate and symbolise our era. It is an important issue in and of itself, but it also possesses symbolic significance as the distilled essence of everything we find undesirable and disruptive among the nations of Europe. We cannot allow Brussels to put itself above the law. We cannot allow it to shift the consequences of its own policy onto those who have abided by each and every treaty and piece of legislation as we have done.
Yet it is becoming obvious that Hungary is being penalised precisely because it has obeyed the rules. We are being gradually displaced from the European mainstream even though we once would have thought such a possibility absurd. Our critics inside and outside European institutions seek to construe everything we did as being foreign to European politics, from our Constitutional affirmation of Christian roots, to our demographic policy, to our efforts at unifying our nation scattered across borders. At the same time nobody can rule out the possibility that, in the years to come, the mainstream will be diverted precisely to the course that Hungary has followed.
What we see in Europe today certainly does not exclude the possibility. The Berlin massacre at the Christmas market; the terrorist attacks in France; the hundreds of migrants starting to march from Belgrade toward Hungary only the day before yesterday; Brexit; the election of Donald Trump as America’s President – all these suggest a very complex future. For now, there is no consensus among experts of European politics on how to explain this welter of changing phenomena. Without any doubt, however, there is a growing apprehension among Europeans.
The surface manifestations are illegal migration, terrorism, uncertainty. But where do they all come from? There is a certain resemblance between the woes now descending on both parts of the western world, on America and the Old Continent this side of the pond. Until recently, young people in Germany, France, Britain, or Belgium would be told that if they finish school, respect the law, respect their parents, and work hard, they will achieve more and have a better life than their parents did. This was the prospect that sustained the allure of the great European dream that the European Union is an attempt to realise. In Hungary, this prospect was nonexistent between 1945 and 1990, at most a distant dream; but it was regarded as a given, even a commonplace, in the European Union and the United States.
Today, if you promise the same things to a European youth, your message will fall on deaf ears at best. More likely, it will be ridiculed. The pledge of a good European life has been dishonoured and squandered. It is a loss that will have serious consequences.
To explain the developments I have described, one could point to the entry of new competitors in the world market – backed by populations on the order of billions – challenging the former global economic hegemony of the West. Indeed, the entry of India and China has redrawn the global map of the flow of goods.
Because the West, and specifically the European Union, has so far proved unable to adapt to this shift, the EU will profit less, its performance will be devalued, and its contribution to global productivity will continue to plummet. Under the circumstances, future generations cannot be blamed for losing the moral selfconfidence, let alone the optimism, that previously inspired their parents.
Nor are the leaders of our societies exempt from this loss of morale. On the contrary the symptoms I have outlined go hand in hand with an unspoken but manifest crisis of the European elite. In Western Europe, the centre-right (the Christian democrats) and the centre-left have taken turns at the helm of Europe for the past fifty to sixty years. But they have increasingly offered the same programs and thus a diminishing arena of political choice. The protagonists of Europe always seem to hail from the same elite, the same general frame of mind, the same schools, and the same institutions which rear generation after generation of politicians to this day. They take turns to implement the same policies. Now that this assurance has been called into question by the economic meltdown, however, an economic crisis has quickly turned into the crisis of the elite.
The news today teems with reports – invariably termed “negative” – about new groups cropping up, so-called radicals and populists, any political actor coming from outside of the ruling liberal elite, whether the nearly elected American president or the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party. The list goes on. Each item on it is living proof of that the European elite is in crisis.
More important, this crisis of the elite – itself sprouted from the crisis of the economy – has now evolved to become the crisis of democracy itself. Large masses of people today want something radically different than what is being proposed and done by the traditional elites. This is the deep cause that engenders the restlessness, anxiety and tension that erupts on the surface time and again in the wake of a terrorist attack, some other act of violence, or in particular a seemingly unstoppable tidal wave of migration. This explains the sharpness of the limelight, the extent to which we are stunned by a single terrorist attack. It is not that a deranged individual commits a horrendous act here and there, in France or in Germany. We have had that happen before. It is much rather the sense-whether it is correct or not – that all of this happens in direct consequence, almost as a law of nature, of the general uncertainty and restlessness surrounding us. And we grow even more apprehensive as a result, because we feel that what happens in Nice or Munich or Beril today can happen in virtually any other corner of Europe tomorrow.
The uncertainty and fear that characterises the European psyche today kills the soul. Fear forces everyone – countries, people, families, the actors of the economy – to curl up like a hedgehog in a defensive position. He who lives in fear will not undertake great things but retreat into defence. Faced with crises, he will decide that nothing much can be done about them or worse, that they are not really crises. This attitude is not conducive for Europe to reclaim its leading role. Great feats require a generous soul, and open mind, and a big heart, the readiness to absorb all knowledge and to remain open to all the ideas out there in the world, as well as cooperation and trust. If you have those things, you will be able to accomplish great things, as we attempted recently when we spiritually unified the Hungarian nation across the borders or when we restored to health the Hungarian economy in record time to make up for the inertia of the last fifty years.
President-elect Trump has not yet had the chance to show his true mettle. We all wish him well. But he recently made three proposals to curb terrorism that addressed it realistically and in a problem-solving way. He said, first of all, that what America needs is to create the best secret service in the world as a precondition for everything else. I agree. In Europe, too, our national-level secret services, and the collaboration between them, must be capable of world-class performance in their field. This is paramount for our security.
His second imperative was to abandon the policy of exporting democracy as if it were soap or a cellphone, usable in all markets, with no side effects. Again, I agree. Consider: why are all these migrants from Africa crossing the Mediterranean even as we speak? They are arriving here because Europeans (and later the Western world under the umbrella of the UN) managed to shatter the Libyan régime. It was an anti-democratic régime,to be sure, but an extremely stable one that maintained border protections. We helped to destroy it, moreover, without managing to establish a new government capable of providing stability to the country. It was the same story with Syria, the same again with Iraq.
If you ask what we expect from Turkey, we will say our number one priority would be stability. Not that we are indifferent to the quality of political life there, especially to human rights, in a country that seeks membership in the European Union. All things considered, however, the most crucial requirement of Turkey today is to preserve its stability. For if it becomes destabilised, tens of millions of refugees, including then Turkish refugees, will be unleashed on the European Union without any sort of vetting, control, or impediment. For the same reason, Europeans felt relief when the military reclaimed political power in Egypt, even amidst lingering doubts about whether that takeover was truly beyond reproach by democratic standards. If we carry on with attempts to export democracy on like this, we will end up destabilizing regions where we should be fortifying the little stability there is, thus bringing on a never-ending influx of migrants.
Trump’s third point follows on from that: it is the necessity of reinforcing borders. What we see today is that the greatest pressure on our continent will come from Africa.
Today it is Syria and Libya, but what we really need to brace ourselves for is migrant pressure coming from behind Libya. Let me quote a few figures that give us an idea of the magnitude of the population growth in the next twenty years or so. The population of Egypt will have increased from 90 million to 138 million by 2050; Nigeria’s from 186 million to 390 million; Uganda’s from 38 million to 93 million; Ethiopia’s from 102 million to 228 million. Let us admit that extrapolating from present trends to make predictions is always problematic. Still, we have nothing better than our current knowledge to rely on in preparing for the future.
In the face of such threats, Trump’s proposals at least acknowledge them as threats and propose solutions to them. Europe by contrast is continually diverted from dealing realistically with threats towards policies that concentrate instead on formulating “European solutions’’ that solve nothing. For that reason among others, curbing national sovereignty is one of the main dangers for Europe today. There are things against which Brussels alone is powerless, against which we can only defend ourselves individually as nations. We weaken ourselves when we hand those problems over to the EU. So we must now reconsider all thought, political action and initiative that seek to transfer powers from nation states to Brussels.
Until as recently as the Brexit vote, there used to be little doubt that the European Union was a major actor in global politics, capable of influencing developments not only back home but in remote corners of the globe. The secession of the UK marks the end of that era. The EU’s influence is even weakening closer to home, as it is apparent in the conflict in Ukraine. As for the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, and other conflict zones, Europe has clearly yielded the centre stage of action to the United States and Russia. If we still have some power left to influence the events unfolding in the world beyond our own territory, that power is now limited to the regions surrounding us. Collectively we should be more humble and more realistic about our ability to solve other people’s problems. We will then be more likely to succeed.
Throughout decades the mainstream answer to the problems Europe had to face was “More Europe”. We have to recognize however, that there are areas where we need more Europe and there are areas where we need less Europe. We need more Europe where common action at a European level can give a value added to attaining the national objectives of Member States. Security and defens can be such areas. And there can be areas where we need less Europe, less red tape and fewer regulatory burdens, to allow the competitiveness of Member States to flourish.
Europeans, both as people and peoples, can do many things that “Europe” cannot. A European Union that recognises this truth and allows a variety of national solutions will find that its problems shrink mysteriously while its back is turned.