Forget about the Money: Why Hungary is much more worrisome than Brexit or Greece

The recent struggle about the fate of CEU in Hungary is just the latest installment of a move towards what the Hungarian government calls ‘illiberal democracy’.  In real terms, this is a misnomer as Hungary has become a democracy only in the sense of an (not really fairly) elected government, whereas most of the other institutions have been gradually dismantled: checks and balances, independent judiciary, independent press, academic freedom are all severely damaged.

The only positive aspect of the Hungarian lex specialis against CEU is however, that it gives salience to an issue which is much more worrisome than BREXIT or the debt crisis in Southern Europe: it is the question, whether the EU can continue to exist if some of its members cease to be democracies.

Historically, the European Communities were founded as a zone of economic integration and cooperation to stabilize the partly nascent democracies in Western Europe. One might argue that ironically, the economic integration has contributed to a destabilization of these democracies. And yet, in many respects the current resentment against the EU is just a typical example of scapegoating: the debt crisis, the integration in a global economy could perhaps have been mitigated without the deep European economic integration, but they would have happened nonetheless.

Forget about the money for a second. The fog of economic turbulences has clouded our eyes when it comes to the original idea: creating a mutually stabilizing club of democracies. The legitimacy of the European Union itself is at stake, if it transforms into a mixed bag of democracies, semi-democracies, and outright autocracies in the near future. Like the United Nations such an EU would suffer tremendously from the most basic disagreements on fundamental human norms. Just think of the fact that Saudia Arabia gets to chair the UN Human Rights Council panel. However, unlike the United Nations, the EU would still consist of a much deeper level of political integration, of shared areas of competences and common institutions.

Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to think that the current crisis in Hungary and in several other European countries poses the most existential threat to the EU since its existence. Forget about the money, this is about basic freedom, democracy and rule of law. This is about the reason why the EU was called into existence.




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2 responses to “Forget about the Money: Why Hungary is much more worrisome than Brexit or Greece

  1. Pat

    Cannot agree more with your analysis.
    Brexit and the illiberal politics of Hungary are symptoms of a crisis. My hopes are that the EU interprets this crisis as a systemic one that requires enforcing the values, those that go beyond the economy and embrace social justice and democracy, and not as episodes.
    Values are there to be enforced and there’s the need to rethink how to enforce them and create the stability that is so much needed.
    The lack of clear policies to enforce and create European citizens and clearly spread EU values in new generations is a pricey detail that has been long overlooked.
    I struggle to explain to European teenagers the value of Europe, as they cannot see anything different, they still study National history and lack an european civic education and knowledge of why Europe is and should be a united entity. It’s a constant struggle to share my experiences, the emotion of then the wall came down, and the hopes that brought to the world.
    Because none told them what was Europe before, and none sees the huge leap forward we made in a relatively short time.

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