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Timmermans vs. Orban or how to explain the political divisions in the EU

At the February European Parliament plenary session we expected a premeditated attack on Poland, which would then be followed by a similar assault upon the Hungarian government at the following session. Well, the left wing majority that drafts the session agenda judged that it was far better to postpone both discussions for a certain period. With regard to Hungary, they were probably persuaded by the fact that any pillory of its Prime Minister Viktor Orban would only raise his popularity. That is why they rather moved the show that could be referred to as a ‘sham trial’ to a later date after the elections. However, this has nothing to do with affinity or dislike between Frans Timmermans and Viktor Orban, or even with mere politics. We must not overlook the differences that exist between the North-Western and Central European cultural and political regions.

In that regard the statement of the leader of the European People's Party Manfred Weber, who a few days ago twitted the following: ‘Wir wollen kein Europa des Multi-Kulti, sondern ein Europa der europaeische Werte’ (in Eng. ‘We do not want a multicultural Europe but a Europe with European values’), is meaningful. That statement is not just a political but also a profoundly social, historical and cultural message.

Let's first mention the political tensions. The Polish government is criticised for carrying out reforms and putting in place a new system of ‘checks and balances’ between the legislative, executive and judicial authority to the detriment of judicial power. Reforms are said to be disproportionate in that regard, since they enable direct political influence on the work of the constitutional court, regular courts and on the judicial council. That is why the Commission initiated the procedure under Article 7(1) of the Treaty of the European Union to address the fact that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 of the TEU. This Article reads as follows: ‘The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.’

However, it should be added that this does not already constitute the procedure under Article 7(2) of the Treaty, which merely serves as the legal basis for determining the serious and persistent breach of the values under this Article. To simplify, we are still in the pre-phase in terms of sanctions with regard to Poland. Following the European Parliament, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members, must decide on the breach of the Treaty. However at the Council, as already announced, each sanction against Poland will be blocked by Hungary and vice versa.

At first glance certain measures of the new Polish government may not comply with certain principles of the state of law, e.g. with the separation of powers. However, western politicians tend to overlook the social context. As a post-communist country, Poland faces the typical transitional issues that need to be resolved. Obviously the lustration operations after the fall of communism were not completely successful. The judicial system, like in Slovenia, failed to develop autonomous normalisation mechanisms.

The Hungarian government is also under pressure. After the opinion that ‘Orban was right’ gradually prevailed, European left-wing parties with the support of the liberals (Guy Verhofstadt being the most vocal of them) put even more pressure on the Hungarian government. As we know, the Hungarian government wishes to create a transparent situation with respect to non-governmental organisations, in particular when financing them. At that point in time the government stepped on the toes of Soros, who is a major financial backer of many non-government organisations but is strongly against financial supervision. Orban also handles the situation surrounding the university, including the high-profile Central European University. But the greatest thorn in the side of European mainstream politics are said to be the government's measures relating to the regulation of unlawful migrations. Certain people in the European Commission are convinced that the new Hungarian legislation does not comply with the EU legislation (acquis) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. As in the case of Poland, the European parliament majority also expressed their conviction that the situation in Hungary means a ‘clear risk’ that will supposedly lead to a ‘serious’ breach of the values determined by Article 2 of the Treaty of the EU. The Hungarian government justifiably rejected all these allegations.

Western and Central Europe: same core but also distinct differences

How then to understand the constant pressures on Central European countries? Everything cannot be explained through the political division of left versus right. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were also under pressure despite having left-wing governments. Poland, Hungary and Austria had similar reactions to unlawful migrations. The differences between the West (so-called Occident) and Central Europe are apparently deeper than could be explained solely by daily political reasons.

This issue was already addressed by Viktor Orban in one of his speeches. In it he placed a different political platform, which he simply called Christian democracy, opposite western liberal democracy. Orban spoke on behalf of the region that has a common recent history and experiences with totalitarian regimes, with most of the countries battling the traps of transition into normality. And all are predominantly Catholic. Perhaps a better term to use would be Catholic democracy or, even better, solidary democracy (it is well known that Protestantism, which had a decisive effect on the development of western liberalism, falls within the scope of Christianity. Over the past two centuries a plural political area has emerged in Europe. Religious and cultural lines of separation (e.g. even between the Protestant and Catholic view of the world or society) have profoundly defined the relevant political maps.

Central European (Catholic) ‘Software of the Mind’ in politics developed somewhat differently than in the northern and western Protestant environments. More so than the ‘war of all against all’, the market and absolute freedom of individuals, Central Europe has pushed to the forefront a somewhat different ladder of values in which solidarity, community autonomy (subsidiarity) and social justice is highlighted. Similar diverse highlights could be noticed also if you were to carefully read CDU's (Christian Democratic Union's) and CSU's (Christian Social Union's) political documents. Bavaria falls within the Central European framework and as such it is not unusual that Bavarians and Hungarians get on extremely well when taking a close look at the frequency of visits at the highest level. On the other hand, we cannot claim with certainty that the open society concept is not accepted in Central Europe. However, they are willing to invest a lot more in cultivating traditions and in the protection and development of their own culture and identity.

For quite a long time the CSU was a prisoner of the rhetoric and stance of ‘political correctness’ of a coalition partner who often took a stance regarding migrant policy that was outside reason and reality. The loss of political contact with voters was punished by the latter and the most powerful Bavarian party found itself in the greatest crisis to date. Horst Seehofer and Manfred Weber, two of the most visible Bavarian politicians, are determined to end the multiculturalism which has shown its impotence over the last three years, at a time when Europe is dealing with the unsuccessful integration of the newcomers. 

Of course, it should be noted that the differences between the so-called Occident (Western world) and Central Europe are now a lot smaller than in the past, i.e. a hundred or more years ago. Similarities are found more frequently and that is how it should be. Central Europe is also an integral part of the West and vice versa. It is also clear that the common fundaments, including cultural ones, are stronger than the differences. However, certain characteristic differences remain that are mirrored in the drafting of political decisions, objectives and values.

And where is Slovenia?

If we were to compare political and cultural orientations in the Central European region, I am afraid we would arrive to certain less pleasant conclusions regarding Slovenia. Slovenia, where the transition pace is the slowest of all comparable countries in Central Europe, has become an extremely secular society in the past seven or eight decades. The share of Christians is lower than elsewhere. Culture is reflected in the structure of society. An incomparably high percentage of the corporate sector, banks, schools and media is state-owned and managed by left wing elitists and the deep state (shadow government). The egalitarian syndrome prevails over entrepreneurship, apathy over participation and hatred over respect. While others elsewhere have reconciled, the civil war is still in progress in Slovenia, just that the war is being fought through other means. To summarise, it would be difficult to position today's Slovenia in the Central European environment, even less in the western liberal region according to certain systemic and cultural indicators. For now we are an island. Once the proper reforms are implemented we will again resemble a continent.