Last week, the European Union voted to withhold funding from member states Poland and Hungary for being out of step with “European Union values.”
According to one writer who supported the vote, these two countries’ “governments railed against what they saw as the EU’s promotion of social liberalism and gay rights and both have shown disdain for institutional constraints of liberal democracy such as independent courts and media freedom.” Because of this, Poland and Hungary have been portrayed as more aligned with Vladimir Putin’s Russia than Angela Merkel’s EU.
At the moment, Poland and Hungary are taking on the vast majority of refugees from Ukraine, so far 1.5 million and 215,000, respectively. Like the rest of the EU, both countries are also beholden to Russia for their energy. For this reason, it’s easy to imagine that both countries’ governments mainly wish to give the Russians what they want and end the invasion instead of supporting Ukraine’s resistance.
For all the talk of unifying the EU and reining in autocrats, this vote proved the opposite. EU leadership in Brussels saw an opportunity to cut down dissent, and they took it.
They exploited the anti-Russian fervor that came out of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to associate member states with the unpopular Putin regime as well as the great burden of refugees both countries are enduring. This gave them a plausible pretext to suppress these countries’ sovereignty, withhold much-needed funds, and diminish the power of socially conservative presidents Victor Orban and Andrzej Kaczyński.
This whole event is a perfect illustration of what the EU has become, which is probably why most corporate news outlets have not reported on it. It is an oppressive system run by unaccountable bureaucrats and officials who use economic and political pressure to overturn democratically elected governments that fail to follow the party line. This has less to do with protecting LGBT people and freedom of the press, and more to do with destroying populist conservatives critical of the EU.
To understand this system, it’s important to recognize that Western Europe has long since moved on from democratic liberalism towards a transnational oligarchy that uses identity politics and leftist ideology to consolidate power and eliminate freedoms. In these countries, an unaccountable elite controls unaccountable institutions (like the EU parliament) to squeeze ever more compliance from their populations. It was precisely this problem that led men like my father to leave France and seek a life here in the United States.
As David Harsanyi documents in his recent book “Eurotrash,” this system has left Western Europe poorer, weaker, less relevant, and much less free. Western European leaders routinely curtail free speech with catch-all hate speech laws and impose greater dependency among populations with confiscatory taxes and government monopolies. Rather than producing happier, safer, more harmonious countries, they have segregated, unproductive countries reliant on the U.S. military to protect them from invasion.
Nevertheless, in much the same way Justin Trudeau had to hypocritically vilify Canadian truckers as white supremacists threatening democracy, EU representatives will hypocritically vilify Hungary and Poland as autocracies threatening Western Europe’s liberal values. It is shameless projection, hiding an increasingly obvious fact that the classical liberal tradition is on the wane in much of the West.
Whether it’s because of Covid, the environment, sympathies with Russia, or protecting minorities, Western governments have been all too willing to take away their peoples’ rights. Either they do this directly by simply banning speech and rigging elections, or they do it indirectly by withholding funds, freezing assets, and restricting economic activity. All recourses for changing leadership are thereby removed, and people are forced to consume unchallenged propaganda and hope that the oligarchs are kind to them.
This is what’s at work in Poland and Hungary. Somehow, they are the ones to be sanctioned while an embattled Ukraine may very well be welcomed into the EU. Are we to believe that Ukraine is more in line with the EU’s values? Can one not support them in their current plight while acknowledging that they are a dysfunctional state in need of serious reform?
None of this is to comment on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but to see the EU’s duplicity in all of it. They just punished the two countries actually doing something to help Ukraine and having the most to lose.
In addition to taking the side of Ukrainians, Americans following this conflict should take the side of the Hungarians and Polish. Not only are they seeking higher ground in this conflict between two neighboring nations, but they are doing the same in the conflict with an increasingly intolerant, anti-liberal European Union.