29 October 2015

The European Union has failed to manage its migrant crisis.  Mistakes have been made but others will be blamed, in particular Viktor Orbán and Hungary. Budapest has been a very useful scapegoat.

Yet the incessant negative campaign against Hungary in the western media, often fueled by political opponents seeking to castigate Budapest and its policies, hasn’t really struck home. Indeed, as the migrant crisis deepens, Orbán paradoxically seems to be strengthened by a pan-European popular sentiment, which not only appears to support him but which encourages other politicians to follow suit.

As between ten to fifteen thousand migrants daily trudge relentlessly towards Germany, Sweden or Austria, the EU has taken refuge behind the refusal of the Visegrád states to accept migrant quotas as a major stumbling block to managing the crisis. The absurdity of ramming home solutions, which have to be enforced through qualified majority voting – a clear breach of the EU rules some say – only further distances European citizens from the ruling political elite.

Brussels’ voices vilify Orbán for having the temerity to state clearly his opinion that the migrant influx will have a significant impact on the cultural values and heritage of Europe which has evolved from the period of Christendom through the Enlightenment and which signified a vision of the state and the individual which, he argues, is not shared by many of those migrants wishing to enter Europe.

It must have been music to Hungary’s ears then, when Donald Tusk, President of the Union warned Member States that what was unfolding was actually a form of ‘hybrid warfare’.  One can only speculate as to why the European Parliament or Commission remain silent when Tusk speaks of a significant threat but rant and rave if Orbán speaks of the same.

In truth, Hungary’s alternative narrative on the migrant crisis does not deserve to be discarded without some consideration of the facts. Early on in this crisis, Hungary’s Prime Minister strongly hinted that many of the migrants were not all refugees from war torn countries but many are opportunistic migrants pursuing a better economic future. Even Germany has acknowledged this fact by designating several Balkan states as ‘safe countries’ and thereby automatically removing the grounds for their claims to asylum. Although the EU seems reluctant to listen, Orbán, in highlighting the mass movement of hundreds of thousands of fit young men, is pleading for a more nuanced perspective and analysis of what is developing – fleeing refugees or economic relocation? If you cannot ask the correct question, there is little hope of securing a plausible answer and one, which might lead to a possible solution.

Orbán also suggested, that this situation, if not regulated, will lead to an increase in law and order and security problems in the Union in the future. Controversial as this might sound, this is not idle speculation. Given that upwards of one and a half million unidentified, undocumented and irregular individuals will seek to resettle in Europe, one cannot fail to see that general crime – as a percentage of the population – is likely to increase. This has nothing to do with people’s race, religion or colour but simply a matter of statistics and human behavior. Is it really likely that none of these migrants will be attracted to radicalization and terrorism in the future, given that thousands of existing European citizens have been attracted by IS ideology? European security organizations do not have the luxury of being complacent.

Yet perhaps the issue that has greatest potential for exposing the current fault lines in the EU is the willingness of the some states, supported by the Commission, to adopt policies that have no popular mandate and for those who oppose it, to suffer the threat of punishment, including the withholding of financial payments from the Union budget. There does seem something seriously wrong with the Union today. The Euro debacle is haunting the corridors of power. The continuing stalemate in Ukraine is seeping confidence from a Union fearful of confronting Russia. Schengen, once the jewel in the European project’s crown, is tarnished, possibly broken. When Orbán spoke of the illiberal state, another occasion for howls of EU indignation, too few of the Brussels elite recognized that this was not a cry for dictatorial leadership but rather a recognition of the inbuilt dictatorship within liberalism, a cautionary note which is not of Orbán’s making but generally associated with the famous philosopher and historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin.

Rightly or wrongly, Hungary and Viktor Orbán’s government, through its analysis and policies, have laid bare the failure of Brussels’ handling of the migrant crisis. Budapest has found a voice that people are listening to and it is roaring in defiance. Perhaps only time will tell if Hungary is right but on the evidence to date, Orbán’s words seem prescient.