That other European Union


Fake problems. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto speaks during the “Visegrad-4 plus Balkan-4 plus” meeting in Greece, on May 1. (Reuters)

In person, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is entirely believable when he insists that Europe has a problem. Unfortunately, Szijjarto scores an own goal. He convinces listeners that Europe’s problem has less to do with uninvited migrants than with the four-member Visegrad Group of central European countries, of which Hungary is a part.

This had something to do with Szijjarto’s audience — a well-heeled part of the global village that is the London think-tank called Chatham House. It also had a great deal to do with Szijjarto himself. A former spokesman for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in his current role as foreign minister Szijjarto is still his master’s voice.

That voice was heard loud and clear ahead of the EU summit in Brussels. It decisively claimed Europe’s right and responsibility to “preserve Christianity,” assailed migrants as “a security issue,” identified “29 terrorist attacks in three years by people with a migratory background” and celebrated recent election victories in Europe of “anti-migrant” parties.

Closing European ports to boats carrying African migrants is the way forward, Szijjarto declared, even as a rescue vessel bearing migrants wandered the Mediterranean in search of a place to dock.

“[Italian Interior] Minister [Matteo] Salvini made the decision for illegal migrants not to enter the port of Italy and it’s a game changer,” said Szijjarto. “It is possible to protect Europe’s maritime borders… Australia has proved it.” The reference was to Australia’s mandatory detention from 1992 of visa-less migrants trying to enter its waters by boat.

And then, the proud claim: “In Hungary, a government with a very clear anti-migrant agenda has won.” The April 8 election was Orban’s third consecutive win after a campaign described by observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe as marked by “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing.”

Szijjarto might have added, in keeping with the punchy tone of his remarks, suck it up libtards and snowflakes, this is what the future looks like.

Is this then to be the future of Europe, the world’s most ambitious trading bloc, a vast, imperfect but well-intentioned project for peace built on the rubble of destructive 20th century nationalisms and two wars? On July 1, Austria began its turn in the European Union’s rotating presidency for six months. The government in Vienna, Szijjarto triumphantly pointed out, is anti-migrant too, just like his own.

Is Hungary and the Visegrad Group (V4) the future then? The V4 — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — Szijjarto boasted, is growing at an average of 4.1% while the European average is 2.4%. So is it possible anymore to ignore the possibility the V4 may one day be the engine of European growth, replacing the Franco-German core?

Is the European Union ripe to be refashioned in the image of the Visegrad Group, which champions a muscular Christianity and unremitting malevolence towards uninvited migrants, especially Muslims, Arabs and Africans? Will European values come to symbolise exclusivism rather than enlightenment values?

Szijjarto — His Master’s Voice — doesn’t answer such broad questions but offers a vision of the ideal Europe as seen from Budapest. A vast and wealthy “Christian continent” paying reasonable sums into the Middle East and North Africa to keep the peril of migrants well away from Europe.

Hungary, he says, “support(s) robust financial assistance to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq” and Turkey, so they can look after refugees. “We want to bring help where it’s needed,” he said, to let refugees and the displaced stay near their home countries.

That sounds remarkably considerate until one considers the implications of the Budapest vision. That the world is better off in distinct orbits, bounded by religion and race, that never intersect.