Feb 04, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

The way we make Europe great again

In an evolving, multipolar world order, Europe cannot afford to waste its energy and resources on senseless pursuits. Europe has great potential, but it lacks self-confidence. It is passing through a period of weakness, and that weakness breeds insecurity and fear that poisons the soul of the European body politic.

Europe is entirely capable of overcoming its challenges and defending itself – where there’s a will, there’s a way – but it is impeded by a European elite preoccupied with ideology over pragmatic solutions. The people of Europe want “democratic societies” and not “open societies.”

In short, that’s the message that Prime Minister Orbán conveyed last week in Brussels in a series of meetings, speeches and an article in the Hungarian Review – a shorter version of which appeared in the American conservative publication, the National Review. Having described the challenge, the prime minister then proffered a solution.

Ringing the alarm bell may upset a few because European elites are in denial that there is a problem. But the problems are staring us in the face, and the least that Europe can do is start “an open and honest debate” on what’s next. A debate without taboos.

The crisis of the European Union has become painfully apparent over the past few years. After struggling to cope with a euro-zone financial crisis in Greece, it stumbled over the migration crisis that overwhelmed the continent in 2015. Instead of big-picture answers to a big problem, the European Union came down hard on the member states that tried their best to follow the rules and meet their responsibilities.

“Protecting a border is not a nice thing. It is not a matter of aesthetics; it cannot be done with flowers and teddy bears,” said Prime Minister Orbán. But by protecting the border, he said, “We safeguarded the lifestyle, economic model, and safety so dearly cherished by Europeans.”

Since the beginning of the crisis, Hungary pushed for the protection of the Schengen Area’s external borders that migrants – many of whom have crossed the border illegally and presented false documents – should not be allowed to move about freely in a borderless community before their request for refugee crisis is decided. We criticized the decision to allow so many – 1 to 1.5 million people each year – to enter the community. Instead of emphasizing a policy of allowing people into Europe –the ones who take the dangerous trip to Europe are often not the neediest – we should have helped the people of the troubled regions in their country of origin or in the countries bordering the crises.

The problem, however, is that Europe has lost self-confidence in its identity, in its core values, and leaders of the European Union do not necessarily find these values worthy of protection.

The reason for the discouragement, according to Orbán, is the failure of what has been called “the western dream.” Specifically, he said

“Until recently, young people in Germany, France, Britain, and Belgium were told that if they finished school, respected the law, honored their parents, and worked hard, they would achieve more and have a better life than their parents had. This was the prospect that sustained the allure of the great European dream that the European Union is an attempt to realize. In Hungary, this prospect was nonexistent between 1945 and 1990, at most a distant dream; but it was regarded as a given, even 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 elites of Europe, at the same time, have grown complacent, over-confident. “The leaders of Europe always seem to emerge from the same elite, the same general frame of mind, the same schools, and the same institutions that rear generation after generation of politicians to this day. They take turns implementing the same policies.” No wonder, according to the prime minister, that “large masses of people today want something radically different from what traditional elites want. This is the deep cause of the restlessness, anxiety, and tension erupting on the surface, time and again, in the wake of a terrorist attack or some other act of violence, or when we confront a seemingly unstoppable tidal wave of migration.”

That’s what puts a cold blade on Europe’s neck – that’s why we fail to make brave decisions.

Summarizing his vision, PM Orbán described the core issue like this:

“The uncertainty and fear that characterize the European psyche today kill the soul. Fear forces everyone — countries, people, families, the actors in 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 defense. Faced with crises, he will decide that nothing much can be done about them or, worse, that they are not real crises. This attitude will not help Europe reclaim its leading role. Great feats require a generous soul, an open mind, and a big heart, the readiness to absorb all knowledge and remain open to new ideas, 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 50 years.”

Prime Minister Orbán said that what the new president of the United States proposed for his country – an outstanding secret service, an abandonment of the “democracy export” that destabilized the Middle East and Northern Africa, and a determination to reinforce borders – are all viable solutions for Europe to overcome the migration crisis. “Trump’s proposals at least acknowledge such threats and propose solutions to them. Europe by contrast has avoided dealing realistically with threats; instead, it crafts policies that concentrate on formulating “European solutions” that solve nothing,” the prime minister said.

“For decades, the mainstream answer to European problems was “more Europe.” We have to recognize, however, that there are areas where we need more Europe and areas where we need less Europe. We need more Europe when common action at a European level — such as on security and defense — can help member states attain their national objectives. And there can be areas where we need less Europe, less red tape, and fewer regulatory burdens, to allow the member states to flourish through competition,” the prime minister said, calling for a smarter approach.

Europe today, is facing four different crises at the same time, Prime Minister Orbán said. We face “crises of economic competitiveness, demography, security and foreign policy.” It is time Europe confront these problems, realize its potential and take action. It is time to make Europe great again.