by Wessie du Toit
Tuesday, 17
November 2020
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16:30

Poland and Hungary are exposing the EU’s flaws

The bloc's rosy view of liberalism was always naïve
by Wessie du Toit
Viktor Orbán (L) and Mateusz Morawiecki (R) believe they can extract more concessions from the EU

The European Union veered into another crisis on Monday, as the governments of Hungary and Poland announced they would veto the bloc’s next seven-year budget. This comes after the European Parliament and Council tried to introduce “rule of law” measures for punishing member states that breach democratic standards — measures that Budapest and Warsaw, the obvious target of such sanctions, have declared unacceptable.

As I wrote last week, it is unlikely that the disciplinary mechanism would actually have posed a major threat to either the Fidesz regime in Hungary or the Law and Justice one in Poland. These stubborn antagonists of European liberalism have long threatened to block the entire budget if it came with meaningful conditions attached. That they have used their veto anyway suggests the Hungarian and Polish governments — or at least the hardline factions within them — feel they can extract further concessions.

There’s likely to be a tense video conference on Thursday as EU leaders attempt to salvage the budget. It’s tempting to assume a compromise will be found that allows everyone to save face (that is the European way), but the ongoing impasse has angered both sides. At least one commentator has stated that further concessions to Hungary and Poland would amount to “appeasement of dictators.”

In fact compromises with illiberal forces are far from unprecedented in the history of modern democracy. The EU constitution that limits the power of federal institutions is what allows actors like Orban to misbehave — something the Hungarian Prime Minister has exploited to great effect.

And yet, it doesn’t help that the constitutional procedures in question — the treaties of the European Union — were so poorly designed in the first place. Allowing single states an effective veto over key policy areas is a recipe for dysfunction, as the EU already found out in September when Cyprus blocked sanctions against Belarus.

More to the point, the current deadlock with Hungary and Poland has come about because the existing Article 7 mechanism for disciplining member states is virtually unenforceable (both nations have been subject to Article 7 probes for several years, to no effect).

But this practical shortcoming also points to an ideological one. As European politicians have admitted, the failure to design a workable disciplinary mechanism shows the project’s architects did not take seriously the possibility that, once countries had made the democratic reforms necessary to gain access to the EU, they might, at a later date, move back in the opposite direction. Theirs was a naïve faith in the onwards march of liberal democracy.

In this sense, the crisis now surrounding the EU budget is another product of that ill-fated optimism which gripped western elites around the turn of the 21st century. Like the governing class in the United States who felt sure China would reform itself once invited into the comity of nations, the founders of the European Union had too rosy a view of liberalism’s future — and their successors are paying the price.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago

Nonsense. Orban is the Liberal here, defending and protecting the European nation state, a great and genuinely Liberal cause. The EU is pursuing an old Marxist agenda – the destruction of the nation state and Orban is perfectly within his rights to resist it. Italy would be standing up to it as well, had the technocrats not engineered another of their nasty little coups d’etat in Rome. Most of all, what this author fails utterly to comprehend is that the contemporary creed which calls itself “liberalism” is fundamentally opposed to the real thing; that this distorted version of a noble philosophy has been smuggled into the corridors of power under a false flag and that naturally the public dislikes it. They can accept gradual demographic shifts, not sudden demographic revolutions – see Christopher Caldwell; they embrace tolerance but rightly shun self-hatred – see the noxious doctrines of “BLM”; they like international cooperation but reject supranational dictatorship. The real dictators are those whose moral vanity emerges – at last – as coercive prescription, in defiance of both feeling and fact. Monsieur du Toit is merely cheering on the unfolding anti-democratic disaster of sub-rosa Marxism.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I agree. I can’t perceive any wrong-doing on Poland or Hungary’s part, apart from the fact that they are now ignoring the EU-agenda. I’ve worked with EU policy-makers. Their path to power is only through flattening European cultures to make them more adaptable to their machinations.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

But the flattening of culture is precisely the work and the effect of liberal capitalism, as Uncle Karl points out so poetically in the Communist Manifesto. (“All that is solid melts into air,” etc.) Lib-cap has destroyed every obstruction in its path: feudalism, monarchy, religion, fascism, nationalism, socialism. It will destroy Islam as it destroyed Christianity, rendering both into styles and aesthetic options. It will destroy Fidesz and the Law and Justice party, when the Poles and the Hungarians get bored with being ruled by hicks. All the E.U. need do is have faith, temporize, and let it work.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Nihilistic rubbish. Capitalism can live very happily within old structures, reinforcing them with new means – which is precisely why the butcher, Lenin, so disliked the capitalist development of Tsarist Russia – it was at once successful, abolishing famine and exporting butter, and traditional. It is socialism which flattens culture because it destroys all free standing institutions and alternative sources of authority, as, for example, the church in communist Russia or ancient family loyalties in Mao’s nightmare version of China. Pol Pot brought the process to the worst and most immediate extremity. Your “uncle” Marx was bang wrong about that as about all things and his German idealist rhetoric merely masks the brutal will-to-power which was his true motivation.

s williams
s williams
1 year ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

My money is on Islam.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

Nonsense indeed!
The EU laws were carefully designed to encourage Nation states to join, with the implicit promise that the EU would not interfere with a democratic choice of an individual state.
But, once sucked in, it appears that the author of this article thinks it is “Liberal”
for him and his ilk to override the democratic vote in Poland & Hungary.
If they wish to proceed with the budget, they only have to stop telling other people what to do.

Steve White
Steve White
1 year ago

The post comments are the best part! 😀

Micheal Thompson
Micheal Thompson
1 year ago

I am not at all sure that Adenauer, De Gasperi, and Monnet would be in agreement on attempting to force an LGBTQI+ supportive agenda on Poland and Hungary when it seems that they don’t want it. Enforcing ideas and then policing them was something that they were all familiar with and had struggled against.

Andrew Hall
Andrew Hall
1 year ago

“These stubborn antagonists of European liberalism….”
This is a misconstruction. Countries emerging from crushing poverty under a bureaucracy-with-thumbscrews (with secret hangings and no grave for relatives to mourn) tend to have a different attitude toward imposed bureaucracies. Sorry.
If the EU falls it will be for these reasons as much as through Italy’s financial fecklessness and Germanic self-interest.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Hall

The Hungarian and Polish cultures did not start with Soviet occupation.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

“Theirs was a naïve faith in the onwards march of liberal democracy.”

* Theirs was a naïve faith in the onwards march of woke undemocracy.

Robert Cannon
Robert Cannon
1 year ago

The persecution of Poland and Hungary by western European media speaks not to any change in Poland or Hungary but rather to change in the western European media classes of what is or is not acceptable and a desire to force their position on other EU member states.

In my home country of Ireland all of the judges – no matter how junior – are appointed by the 15 member government. The most recent appointment to the Irish Supreme Court (Ireland’s highest court) was made on the basis of the relevant minister bringing only a single nomination to the cabinet to consider – and the person nominated was a member of the then governing political party and had never previously held judicial office. At least three judges serving on lower courts (High Court, Court of Appeal) applied for the role but their names were not even considered.

Again, in my home country of Ireland, under Section 52 of the Irish Universities Act 1997 “a person shall not, without the approval of the Minister [for Education], use the word “university” to describe an educational establishment or facility”.

What’s shocking to me is that there are numerous examples in other EU member states of politicisation of the judiciary and state control of higher education of exactly the same nature or worse than those which have been the basis for complaints against Hungary and Poland. Yet the inconsistency of criticising Hungary and Poland and never even commenting on the same issues in other EU member states is hardly noted.

The real issue here is that the usual suspects – The Netherlands and Sweden – are dragging issues into the EU budgetary process that have never previously been part of it, in what amounts to a form of neo-colonialism. Hungary and Poland rightly will take no lessons from a state like The Netherlands which for decades now had flouted international conventions on control of drugs to which it is a party and is the main centre of production for synthetic illegal drugs in Europe.

Stefan Komar
Stefan Komar
1 year ago

I humbly believe this opinion piece is based on the false premise that there have been violations of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. What is instead happening is that certain politicians, many appointed, and bureaucrats in the European Union, are attempting to abuse their powers to force changes that they are not mandated to influence. The accusations against Poland and Hungary do not hold water when discussion is allowed on the topic. Both countries are democracies that have much to offer and could teach other countries a bit on how to govern properly, to be responsive to their constituents, to curtail corruption, and to defend freedom of speech, along with freedom of the press. Poland has a longer history of democracy and tolerance than many other countries that are trying to bully Poland. Poland has a history of defying totalitarianism that many countries can’t claim. Polish soldiers and activists have helped liberate or contributed to the freedom and safety of many other countries around the world. Poland will defend its freedom from EU bureaucrats, and from the seriously discredited media that has become a tool to try to influence, and not to inform, other than to inform others what they are expected to believe. There once was a time when the experts believed the earth was the center of the universe, and any other notion was suppressed and attacked. It was a Polish astronomer, Copernicus, that broke that instance of mind control. Poland will fight the current attempts at mind control, to the benefit of all, and will weather the below the belt attacks, biases and misinformation that I sincerely believe this opinion piece is a part of. I hope this writer eventually opens his heart and mind, sees the light, re-examines his biases, and stops attacking a people and their government he really knows very little about.

Phil Bolton
Phil Bolton
1 year ago

So let me get this right. The responders to this piece think that Orban is an ok guy and a good responsible leader ? So it’s ok the control the judiciary, it’s ok to muzzle the press, it’s ok to change the constitution in his favour, it’s ok to lock up opponents ? Like it or not, the rules of the EU are clear. If you don’t want to abide by them then clear off !!

Micheal Thompson
Micheal Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Bolton

Sorry, but to judge by your name, you just did !

Peter Kovalszki
Peter Kovalszki
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Bolton

The Hungarian government does not control the judiciary(see many unfavorable decisions ,against the government positions), did not muzzle the press(see the many critical postings and opinions published in the media-printed ,online , radio and TV) and did not lock up any opponent(please name one of these, sir, if you know one), any anybody may demonstrate peacefully against the government., constitutional changes were made according to the rule of law.
So the case against the Hungarian government weak to nonexistent.

Stefan Komar
Stefan Komar
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Bolton

Unfortunately, it is easy to level unsubstantiated, superficial allegations. Neither Poland nor Hungary did anything to violate any rules. It is the EU, and specifically, a few Western politicians, that are abusing their powers to bully Poland and Hungary to bend to their desires, in contradiction to what the voters of those two countries want. All the arguments against Poland and Hungary do not hold water when a civilized discussion is allowed.