From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters
The European Union has once more proved its feckless inability to halt the destruction of democracy by its own member states, Hungary and Poland. The two countries caused a crisis by vetoing the EU budget, which is needed, among other things, to fund the bloc’s COVID-19 recovery plan and shore up its devastated economies. They vetoed it to prevent any EU sanctions for “violation of the rule of law,” including the two countries’ subordination of their judiciaries to the government’s political dictates and party loyalty.
EU FIDDLED WHILE DEMOCRACY BURNED
In the last three years, Hungary and Poland have each blocked attempts to sanction the other under EU rules that require unanimity or near unanimity. The EU might have stood a chance if it had acted before Poland turned authoritarian under the Law and Justice party (PiS) in 2015—but it utterly failed to act, wallowing in illusions about European solidarity and the supremacy of liberal democracy.
Time and again, the EU has slapped the wrists of the Polish and Hungarian states, doing nothing material to affect their behavior. All it achieved was to strengthen the neo-fascists’ portrayal of themselves as victims under siege from European elites. At the same time, the EU never did anything to stop the flow of massive subsidies to those states, which used them in the most discriminatory and politicized ways to punish domestic enemies and cultivate patronage and support.
The EU’s current scramble to pass a budget in a moment of crisis will inevitably prove to be one more capitulation to the “illiberal democracy” of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the PiS. The message has been received by authoritarians around the world, and especially within the EU, that they will meet little resistance from international blocs and institutions in their march to a 21st-century fascism. It is one more sign of the decay of global capitalism.