Today, Europe, is facing four different crises at the same time, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said recently. The “crises of economic competitiveness, demography, security and foreign policy” are going to put severe strain on the continent, unless Europe re-discovers its potential and its strength and musters the courage to defend its identity.
The prime minister laid out this picture of a Europe beset by crises in a speech he delivered at the end of January in Brussels and in a lengthy essay on the future of Europe published in the Hungarian Review and a shorter version of the same text in the renowned American conservative publication, the National Review.
Some in the European establishment dismiss such talk or find it too blunt. A growing number of European citizens, however, share the prime minister’s perspective. When we ring the fire alarm, it is not because we like the sound of it. The danger is real and imminent. “The situation is complex – indeed difficult – and calls for an open and honest debate,” PM Orbán said, and those who refuse to debate are refusing Europe the opportunity to solve these problems.
A new world order is being formed today, according to the prime minister, and Europe is caught up in the crises of the past. Even worse, leaders of the European Union deny that there’s a problem. “For the West, ‘what is’ has become increasingly difficult to disentangle from ‘what ought to be,’” he says in the essay. “By contrast, our perception of the real remains as sharp and cold as common sense. We have learned that the real is that which refuses to disappear even if we have stopped believing in it.”
In the essay, entitled “Hungary and the Crisis of Europe,” Prime Minister Orbán elaborates on the reasons why Europe seems paralyzed over the migration crisis. He recites the approach Hungary has been pushing since 2015, which could be summarized as “the call and the right to protect our [European] culture.” More precisely, we must safeguard “the lifestyle, economic model, and safety so dearly cherished by Europeans.” Borders must be protected, order must be kept and people in need should be aided where the problem arises, rather than being let into a borderless community without proper background checks. When we close a door, it is not because we hate the ones outside, but because we love the ones inside.
Consider it a ‘tough love’ message – we are upset for the community, not against it. That’s why we speak out.
The root of the problem, according to the prime minister, is that the European dream has failed. “Until recently, young people in Germany, France, Britain, and Belgium were told that if they finished school, respected the law, honored their parents, and worked hard, they would achieve more and have a better life than their parents had…Today, if you promise the same things to a European youth, your message will fall on deaf ears at best. More likely, it will be ridiculed.”
At the same time elites are not just in denial but have failed to come up with anything new or creative. “The leaders of Europe always seem to emerge from the same elite, the same general frame of mind, the same schools, and the same institutions that rear generation after generation of politicians to this day. They take turns implementing the same policies.”
By comparison, Orbán emphasized that what the new U.S. president is proposing – a very good secret service, abandoning the “democracy export” to the Middle East and reinforcing the borders – could work in Europe, but “Europe by contrast has avoided dealing realistically with threats; instead, it crafts policies that concentrate on formulating ‘European solutions’ that solve nothing.”
This denial and failure to find solutions has infected the European spirit. “The uncertainty and fear that characterize the European psyche today kill the soul,” the prime minister writes. “Fear forces everyone — countries, people, families, the actors in the economy — to curl up like a hedgehog in a defensive position. He who lives in fear will not undertake great things but retreat into defense. Faced with crises, he will decide that nothing much can be done about them or, worse, that they are not real crises. This attitude will not help Europe reclaim its leading role. Great feats require a generous soul, an open mind, and a big heart, the readiness to absorb all knowledge and remain open to new ideas, as well as cooperation and trust.”
Overcoming that fear and the continent’s flagging morale is the essence of Viktor Orbán’s proposal. Europe still matters, but it must stand up for itself and be prepared to fight for the things that truly matter to its core interests.
The popular mantra today is that the solution to any problem is “more Europe.” That’s not always the case. “We need more Europe when common action at a European level — such as on security and defense — can help member states attain their national objectives,” the prime minister says. But, he adds, “there can be areas where we need less Europe, less red tape, and fewer regulatory burdens, to allow the member states to flourish through competition.”
In frank language, he admits that the reception to these ideas has been strange, sometimes hostile. “[I]t is becoming obvious that Hungary is being penalized. Our critics inside and outside European institutions seek to construe our actions as foreign to European politics — including our constitutional affirmation of Christian roots, our demographic policy, and our efforts to unify our nation scattered across borders. At the same time, nobody can rule out the possibility that in the years to come, the mainstream will follow precisely the course that Hungary has set forth.”
In recent years, the world has seen tectonic changes in the world order as we once knew it. In the near future, these changes will likely intensify. Europe cannot afford to be weak and indecisive, especially if the old continent wants to be great once again.