Commentary. The problems we are having today—that is, having no control over the decisions that truly matter—are due to the fact that there is currently no democratic institution on the global level that can exercise this function. But we have much less power to exercise our sovereignty if we retreat into our little world.

The EU isn’t perfect, but it’s the best battlefield we have

The condemnation of the Orbán government by the European Parliament is finally a piece of good news. Especially so if one takes into account the Western-centric arrogance that has characterized Europe.

Never before in 40 years have the powers-that-be in Strasbourg taken a look in the mirror and seriously considered the many violations of democratic rights perpetrated by member states with impunity. Certainly, these have been less serious than the current abuses in Hungary, but not enough so to be able to afford to boast vainly of our own virtues without a hint of self-criticism. (Just think of what happened in Northern Ireland in the ‘80s, to give just one example of a battle we have always lost, that time against the Government of Her Royal Majesty).

At the same time, it has always seemed that the only body with the authority to judge the status of democracies in the world was the EU—that it has held on to the standard for measuring it, like in Paris where they jealously guard the golden standard representing the exact length of a meter. The condemnation of Orbán is thus a historic event, and we hope it means that more attention is being paid to the rapid decay of our already weather-worn democracies.

The vote condemning the Hungarian government has produced another major novelty: the split of the Popular Party, to which Orbán’s party belongs: almost half of its members in the EU Parliament have refused to let him off the hook. Although this is good news, it is also the sign of the decomposition of the traditional political forces of the center-left and center-right, which are all being hit hard by the novel problems that financial globalization is exacerbating, and which they are not able to manage by resorting to their old recipes. This is happening everywhere, and the European Parliament that will be elected next May will certainly have a very different composition from the one it has had so far.

The first fact that is emerging is that of an irreconcilable split in the Popular Party group, which had held together various moderate Christian Democratic parties, and the development of a large extremist right-wing group—which is also a sovereignist one. Given the role that Angela Merkel has had, and still has, in the EU, the breakdown of the political force that she came from will be fraught with consequences.

But the tsunami is hitting the left as well, both those in the Socialist group and those affiliated with the Party of the European Left. In France, both the PSF and the PCF have almost completely vanished, replaced at the polls by Macron, a “Renzi-like” figure, and the hyper-sovereignist Mélanchon, who has even said that he would kick out Syriza from the Party of the European Left. In Germany, die Linke, perhaps the strongest and most sensible among the parties on the left, has seen the development of the Aufstehen (“Wake Up!”) movement, a title which sounds worrying in and of itself—to say nothing of the one chosen in Italy by Fassina, Patria (Homeland), a term that evokes dismal memories from the 20th century. Words are not just words: they are full of symbolism, and that symbolism can cause harm.

So-called “sovereignism,” the belief that the problems facing us can only be solved at the level of a national government, not a European one, is also spreading in Italy. According to these people’s thinking, since the Savoy kings were terrible, we should have just dropped the project of the unification of Italy altogether and gone back to the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

The problems we are having today—that is, having no control over the decisions that truly matter—are due to the fact that there is currently no democratic institution on the global level that can exercise this function. But we have much less power to exercise our sovereignty if we retreat into our little world, drowned by the vastness of the Mediterranean, where it would be even easier to become prey to the many powerful sharks swimming around—some of which are our fellow citizens.

The EU, as it has been built, is bad—but the European level is where we must win if we want to recover a bit of our decision-making power, because that is the only dimension that has any clout on the global stage. It is within our reach to make the EU better than what we could find anywhere else, because, with all its faults, Europe is still the home for the greatest number of democratic and social rights in human history. The Orbán vote has proven this once again, at a fundamental level.

To insist in the European project actually means to choose a battlefield, not a cozy backyard—and this is something about which we must think self-critically. We should ponder the lack of a European dimension for all our proposed initiatives, our struggles, our associations with others.

The condemnation of Hungary is also a warning to us all: how is it possible that over the past decades we have allowed Hungary to develop in this direction without lifting a finger—and have we, more generally, allowed Europe to go the way of Visegrad? There have to be some people still alive who can remember the ’56 uprising in Budapest, what we did there and how we took part in it: a hope that was drowned in bloodshed, but which also showed the wealth of energy and of the democratic socialist traditions in that country—have we let them flame out over time, while we on the Western left didn’t bother to involve them in any dialogue?

How is it possible that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been no more political ties, joint initiatives, even friendships between us?

And how is it possible that we could think that the admission of the countries of the former Soviet bloc into the EU, who had to accept unquestioningly all the EU’s previous decisions, aimed at nothing else than making their people join the herd of good consumers, wouldn’t have serious consequences for all of us?

How do we think we can change Europe if we don’t build a common society to grow the leaders of tomorrow?

It is not only the Maastricht Treaty or the Troika who are preventing the creation of a European economy governed by solidarity rather than by competition. If this is how things stand today, it is because European society has become overrun with vice, and everyone is closing themselves off into narrow localism in their little homeland, which they consider safer than sharing anything with others. After all, Orbán is not only popular in Hungary.

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