MCC Brussels denounces the EU’s “dangerous game”
10 januari 2023 | John Laughland
The Mathias Corvinus College in Budapest, where I am a Visiting Fellow until the end of February, is an elite training college which students attend in addition to their main university studies. With a presence also in schools, and with regional centres across Hungary and even in neighbouring Romania and Ukraine, MCC is a creation of the Fidesz government of Viktor Orban. A public foundation funded by part-ownership of public companies, its goal is to promote talent in Hungary, to prevent emigration and – let’s be honest – to create a conservative, more or less Fidesz-friendly deep state to keep the flame alive when Orban is no longer in power.
The Hungarians are a people of great initiative, not afraid of taking the battle to the enemy. It is in that spirit that MCC has just opened an office (or think-tank) in Brussels. Chaired by the Canadian-Hungarian academic, Frank Furedi, of the University of Kent, MCC Brussels aims to fight the stifling political correctness of the European Union. Furedi is an old leftist who cannot bear the New Left and who has written eloquently on the culture wars currently being waged in the West. He is devoted to the cause of free speech and open debate – you know, those old-fashioned ideas which pre-date the “war against disinformation”.
MCC Brussels has hit the ground running by publishing its first briefing paper, aptly entitled “Dangerous Game: the Weaponisation of the Rule of Law and the Attack on the Veto.” The “rule of law” is, of course, the pretext used to blackmail Hungary into changing its domestic policies by withholding EU funds. The reference to the national veto is in the context of plans, suggested by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and others, to move to a fully federal system in which individual states would no longer have the power to block EU initiatives, as they currently do in a small number of areas including foreign policy.
These two issues are in fact two sides of the same coin. As the paper explains, the “rule of law” is simply a way of fighting a culture war using the language of law, and by having recourse to coercive methods, rather than fighting it in the democratic arena with debate. What is at stake between Brussels, on the one hand, and Budapest and Warsaw on the other, are cultural values. The “rule of law” is in reality an ideological weapon designed to force these countries to adopt certain cultural and social policies using constraint.
The paper shows that elite suspicion of popular sovereignty goes back to the very founding of the EU. It has only grown since then. The role of national parliaments is circumscribed ever more, by the EU bureaucracy and by the judiciary at national level. Politics is replaced by administration (the Commission) and, when that does not work, by the judiciary (especially the European Court of Human Rights) – a judiciary, incidentally, which is not a judiciary since many of the Strasbourg judges are not career judges at all but instead political activists.
The MCC Brussels paper makes it very clear why this is happening. It is driven by a fear that
“liberal democracy lacks the normative foundation to inspire the loyalty and affection of ordinary citizens. In recent years, transnational elites, such as those within the EU, have used international institutions to avoid the need to engage with the electorate and to convince citizens to adopt views that are generally unpopular in wider society. They rely on the authority of transnational or international institutions to side-step having to win the argument on contentious issues.”
The authors argue that, whether it is over culture wars, Covid or the euro crisis, the EU tends increasingly to “use the legal form to communicate its political choices.” In this way, it thinks it is absolved of the need to subject those political choices to democratic debate. “One reason why European political establishment is prepared to endow the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) with a quasi-sacred authority is to ensure that fundamental questions touching on moral norms are taken out of the realm of politics. The outsourcing of moral and political authority to an apparently independent institutions like the ECHR, Constitutional Courts, or Courts of Justice, is symptomatic of the difficulty that post-war liberal democracy has in dealing with the realm of values. “
Naturally, it is within the national framework that values other than those of the EU are expressed, and this only serves to confirm the deep hostility of the EU to the nation-state. So it is a self-fulfilling vicious circle: the EU provokes a reaction and then seeks to strengthen its own power as a counter-reaction.
I particularly liked the observation that one reason why EU elites find the Hungarian and Polish positions so inimical is that they no longer encounter any traditional conservatives I their own countries. The British Conservatives and the German Christian Democrats have long since abandoned any attachment to traditional values and indeed any real opposition to globalisation at all. The only real ideological opposition in Europe is with FVD.
MCC’s is a very good paper and it goes on to argue that, for the same reason and the “rule of law” must not be abused, the national veto also needs to be preserved. On the other hand, one has a depressing sense of déjà vu reading it. Three decades ago, European conservatives like Margaret Thatcher in Britain or Philippe de Villiers in France argued for a different Europe. They tried to prevent the drive towards federalism. Britain eventually succeeded, after a gargantuan battle lasting a generation, to extract itself from the process – only to waste the benefits of Brexit by embracing full-on globalism instead. France failed and has been caught up in a vortex of its own making.
A small country like Hungary might, like the Gauls in the Asterix cartoons, preserve a little redoubt from the encircling imperial armies. Certainly, the Hungarian national mythology is full of such brave tales of resistance against empires, whether Habsburg or Ottoman or Soviet, even if they have often ended in defeat. But can Budapest change the tide and what will happen when its resistance crumbles? Maybe other countries will draw inspiration from the Hungarian model - but it is unlikely that any major EU state will do so, so penetrated are they all are by political correctness. However, although on balance it is more likely that the Hungarian and Polish opposition to the EU, partial as it is because both countries want to remain in both the EU and NATO, will eventually prove futile, it is nonetheless essential to continue the fight. We fight and we fight and, one day, God will give us victory.