The European Union?

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In 1957, six nations Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community (EEC) and established a customs union. 

The treaty came into force in 1958. 

The objective was to avoid another European war. The dream was to eventually create a united Europe with a large economy and a strong global presence in a world dominated then by the U.S. and the USSR.

Today, the now twenty-seven states of the European Union (EU) face new challenges that risk spoiling the dream.

The government of Viktor Orban in Hungary has moved towards authoritarianism over the past decade while building ever stronger ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin. In fact, Hungary is now accepting large scale funding from Russia. Orban has also broken with the EU with respect to support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia for its invasion and ongoing attacks on that country.

In October, upon returning from Moscow, Orban said that the European Union was like the former USSR in its desire to control member states. He said this on the day that Hungarians celebrated the 1956 uprising that was met with a massive Soviet invasion and significant oppression.

Orban seeks a Christian, white Hungary. He is opposed to immigration, especially Muslim immigration from Africa and the Middle East.

In 2022 the EU suspended structural assistance to Budapest over “rule of law” issues. Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has decried the idea of an even closer union, emphasizing that family values, national sovereignty, and national culture are essential to Hungarian society. The EU has challenged Hungarian views at the European Court of Justice on the grounds that the Orban government was attacking LGBTQ rights, refusing to accept migrants, the poor treatment of asylum seekers, and the obligation of NGOs to disclose foreign financiers.

His government has closed liberal universities and institutions, as well as opposition media.

The fight continues with many calling for the suspension of Hungary from the EU. This which would be a major blow to the Hungarian economy that Russia could not fill.

For a while, Poland was Hungary’s bosom buddy in the EU, as its rightwing government moved towards autocracy. This came to an end when Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Poland wholeheartedly supported Ukraine. 

Now, Polish voters have just elected a left of center coalition under Donald Tusk. Tusk, a former EU President, has vowed to change Poland’s course and align it with the EU and NATO. 

However, at the end of September, Slovakia replaced Poland as Hungary’s ally in its fight against the EU. Incoming Prime Minister Robert Fico is aligned with the Kremlin on many issues, considers the Ukrainian government to be corrupt and illegitimate, and refuses to support sanctions against Russia.

A Fico-led government could have serious consequences for the region. Slovakia is a member of both NATO and the European Union. Its former government was among the handful of European countries pushing for tough EU sanctions against Russia and has donated a large amount of military equipment to Ukraine.

But this will change under Fico, who has blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for provoking Russia’s President Vladimir Putin into launching the invasion, repeating the false narrative Putin has used to justify his invasion.

A viable organization depends upon shared values and an adherence to common aspirations to be most effective. 

But is the “cookie cutter” approach to policy making within the EU realistic when 27 different countries, each with its own cultural and religious matrix, are trying to seek common ground?

There are issues that are not up for negotiation. 

Human rights, freedom of speech that is not hate speech, freedom to vote one’s conscience, freedom of the media, and respect for the sovereignty of the various institutions of governance must all be respected.

However, there are issues that cut to the core of national identity and that govern the basic outlook of citizens of any given country. 

Europeans are not, on the whole, nations of mass immigration. Most are unitary states and homogeneous societies many of whose voters feel threatened by the large influx of those whom they consider different to them and their values.

Leaders and the bureaucrats in Brussels don’t seem to take this into account when determining policies that have a fundamental impact on the demographic makeup of individual member states.

As well, dependence on Russian energy supplies has also played a part in the thinking of leaders who seek a greater rapprochement with Russia.

But populist leaders like Orban use the fears of many voters to stir up resentment towards the EU as the villain threatening traditional Hungarian values. Ditto for Fico.

Can the EU adapt to the reality of a heterogenous continent? Can it show greater concern for regional realities while crafting policies for the whole? 

I believe that the only way to avoid having member electorates vote for leaders who would divide the Union is to listen to voters, take their views seriously, and develop policies that meld basic human values with national cultural realities.

It may take longer to achieve the dream of the Union’s founders, but the road will likely be surer.

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