In the last few days we discussed at some length U.S.-Hungarian relations, which are not in the best of shape. We also briefly talked about the harebrained ideas of a Hungarian Catholic bishop on the death of Christian Europe. During these few days some newsworthy events took place in the European Union, the most important being British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “ultimatum” to the European Union. Analysts suspect that Cameron doesn’t really want to get to the point of holding a referendum on Great Britain’s membership in the EU but wants concessions that he can present to domestic critics of the EU. Given the fragile state of the EU, brought about first by the Greek financial collapse and now the refugee crisis, Cameron’s belligerence couldn’t have come at a worst time.
Cameron’s demands include a safeguard to prevent countries that use the euro from discriminating economically against Britain; an end to Britain’s legal commitment to pursue an “ever closer union”; and the right to restrict welfare entitlements, including benefits for low-income workers, for four years for migrants arriving from other European countries. Of these demands the last is the most troubling since it “would be a departure from current European rules stipulating that citizens of all countries in the bloc should be treated equally.” Politico.eu, on the basis of a conversation with a “diplomat familiar with the talks,” claims that the “EU leaders will offer to create a transition clause that restricts the ability of citizens of possible future EU members such as Serbia and Albania to work elsewhere in the EU.” At present there are restrictions for seven years after a country joins the bloc but, according to politico.hu‘s source, “this could be increased to as much as 20 years.”
Such a deal sounds unfair to me, although it might appease the three Visegrád countries–the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia–whose leaders have already protested loudly. After all, London is full of “economic migrants,” the overwhelming majority of whom come from poor East European countries. Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s incoming foreign minister, finds the British move “humiliating.” Peter Javorcik, Slovakia’s ambassador to the European Union, declared that “we cannot create two categories of EU citizens.” According to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, to put limits on the freedom of movement within the EU poses “a serious problem for the Czech Republic.” I trust everybody noticed that Hungary said not a word on the issue.
While these leaders were objecting, the energetic Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, in an interview with Die Welt had a few harsh words of his own about the East European newcomers to the EU. He spoke about the walls that “are not protection but traps.” Renzi didn’t mince words on the behavior of the East European countries. According to him, “the Western European [politicians] paid a political price for the enlargement,” but now they are faced with uncooperative and belligerent Easterners. When the reporter brought up the intransigence of Viktor Orbán, Renzi pointed out that the dividing line on this issue is not left versus right but East versus West. There is socialist rule in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and yet they side with the right-wing Viktor Orbán and many Poles. He elaborated: “It is a geographic, not a political division between those who know Europe as a great ideal and those who primarily see it as an economic benefit.” The problem must be solved together and it will take years: “Only Marine Le Pen or other right-wing demagogues” believe that the problem can be solved in a week. I have no doubt that Renzi includes Viktor Orbán among these right-wing demagogues.
During the same period Orbán gave an interview to the Swiss Die Weltwoche in which he more or less reiterated the outlandish ideas he outlined in his recent speech about the organized nature of the refugee crisis. But this time, I think wisely, he neglected to mention the name of George Soros. He did, however, repeat his belief in a left-wing conspiracy to dilute Christian Europe. This time he also shared his conviction that the socialists of Western Europe welcome the newcomers because they will add to the shrinking voter base of leftist parties.
It seems that Orbán doesn’t have the patience to think through his pronouncements. Years and years will go by before these newcomers receive citizenship. When a large wave of immigrants arrives at the same time, the newcomers’ inclination is to vote for the party that was in power when they were admitted. This was definitely true of the 56ers in the United States and Canada. At least in the first ten or fifteen years after their arrival. Why would the Syrians, who at the moment are so grateful to Angela Merkel, vote for the socialists?
In this interview, which unfortunately is not available online and which I could read only in a Hungarian-language summary, I found two statements that shed light on Viktor Orbán’s state of mind. The first is that he pretty much acknowledges here, if only indirectly, that he has been isolated in the last few years because he “doesn’t fit in,” because he doesn’t “represent the euro-liberal mainstream.” Last night on PBS’s NewsHour I saw Viktor Orbán walking alone, one hand in his jacket pocket, at the Malta Summit, where sixty leaders gathered yesterday. The second telling sentence came at the end of the interview. He explains that the “European, civic, Christian Democratic camp is in such shambles that [he] must take upon himself the task that others cannot accomplish.” Nowhere before have I read such a bald confession of Orbán’s soaring ambition to lead Europe to accept his solution to the refugee crisis.