The United States is not alone in being judged harshly on the international stage for the disruptive policies of President Donald Trump, while the European Union seems to be imploding on account of the systemic threat to democracy coming from Hungary and other former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
The instability that is agitating the political future of the United States is mirrored now by the upheaval of sovereign populist fractures that are reflected even in a perennially stable and democratic nation such as Sweden. Of late, populism has reared its ugly head in Italy where it has always been an inherent weakness, causing a drift to anti-European and anti-immigration currents. This is lamentable for the simple reason that Italy is one of the founding members of the European Community and for a long time a staunch supporter of the European unification process. Hungary, like Poland and the Czech Republic, are instead recent arrivals into the European Union where they were greeted with glee and extra generous funding for their resurrection from the communist swamp.
It is in these countries that undemocratic practices last seen under communism, from the drive to restrict the rule of law to censorship of the press, have multiplied along with strict policies aimed at shutting down any attempt to distribute the migrants in search of new life in the member countries of the European Union. At long last, the Union is moving against the major culprit violating the rule of law and fundamental rights of the European Union, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. A majority of the members of the European parliament have approved the activation of measures that may deprive Hungary of its voting rights in the European Council. The Council, made up by the heads of state and government, may then sanction Hungary but such drastic action appears unlikely in the absence of the required unanimity (Poland, a communist partner, will stand with Hungary). Yet, the warning of the Union is stiff and unmistakable. It rejects Orban’s clamp-down on international NGOs operating in Hungary, the suppression of the university funded by the Hungarian-American financier George Soros, and most importantly the string of laws cutting down the independence of the judiciary.
There is no question that the future of united Europe is murky and that the forthcoming European elections will sharpen the division between the supporters of European ideals and the so-called euro-skeptics. It is the first time that the European Parliament recommends applying article 7 that calls for punishing a member state on account of a “grave threat” to democracy. Orban has already shown his defiance to the Union, and it is quite possible that he will push for the creation of a new bloc sworn to national identity and sovereign principles, a trend that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been encouraging in Europe. The parliamentary vote has split the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) that counts Orban’s party Fidesz among its members. A large enough number of EPP members have concluded that Orban’s party goes against European values.
The divisions that now endanger the European political future are apparent in Italy where the two parties of the coalition government are split on the European Parliament’s decision: the Five Stars maverick party voted in favor of sanctions while Matteo Salvini’s League was against. In fact, Salvini has become the political buddy of the Hungarian prime minister. The two have been railing against the pro-immigrant left and the alleged power lobbies of the European Union. They are abetted by Bannon who seems hell-bent on turning Europe into a battleground where the far right can undermine the entire European project. The European elections of May 2019 will tell whether right-wing populism can be defeated in spite of its presence in various European governments including Italy and Sweden, where the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats received 17 percent of the vote, a result without precedent but still below what its leader expected. Admittedly, Europe has entered a murky historical phase, following a turn of events that is in part unleashed by the growing exodus of young unskilled migrants from Africa and Asia. Just like America, Europe is struggling for a return to a state of normalcy guaranteed by the devotion to constitutional rules and by the commitment to democracy and welfare of its people. There are good reasons to think that these principles will prevail.