As the Russian army ruthlessly bombarded Mariupol and kyiv earlier this month, the European Union adopted new sanctions against Russia. European heads of state and government have come together to craft a common response to the worst threat they have faced since 1945. Meanwhile, millions of refugees (mainly women and children) have fled to the neighboring countries, mainly to Poland, which opened its doors to nearly two million refugees, the equivalent of 5% of its population, while Hungary took in an additional 282,000.
Yet the day after the announcement of a new round of sanctions against Russia, the European Parliament overwhelmingly called for immediate financial sanctions against Poland and Hungary for alleged breaches of the rule of law.
As the world holds its breath in the face of a possible world war, MEPs have found time to demand financial sanctions against the two most exposed European countries – and those hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees. It was discouraging.
This vote speaks volumes about the schizophrenia of the EU in light of Putin’s aggression. The war marks the end of “the end of history” for Europe – a rude awakening to disastrous geopolitics after decades of free riding on cheap energy (mainly from Russia) and free defense under the aegis of NATO.
Certainly, the EU reacted quickly to the Russian invasion and, against all odds, it rose to the occasion. By swiftly adopting unprecedented sanctions that suffocate Russia (but for which Europe will also pay a price), the European Union has shown that it is ready to fend for itself and play tough power games. Russian aggression brought the old continent out of its lethargy and led it to make more progress in two weeks than in 40 years, including in terms of defence. Promising? Sure, but you have to be careful.
Although Putin underestimated European unity, we should not take it for granted. The European Parliament’s vote to sanction Hungary and Poland shows how ready some Europeans are to stir up division even in the midst of war. As in the United States, European elites are blinded by the cult of political correctness and willingly subordinate political priorities to dogmas and mantras that are as simplistic as they are harmful.
Who is spearheading wakeism in the EU? The European Parliament, an elected assembly endowed with real legislative powers but largely unknown to European citizens, totally disconnected from their real concerns and not very representative of the political diversity of the continent. Over time, this supposedly representative assembly has come to consider itself a zealous moral authority, even if it means interfering in areas where the European Union does not have an ounce of competence.
Europe’s dogmatism largely explains the recurrent conflicts between the EU and the continent’s two most openly conservative countries, Poland and Hungary. These two terrible children have the insolence to defend an alternative model and to oppose frontally, without excuses, the dogmas that the Brussels intelligentsia seeks to impose on them.
And they are paying the price. Neither Hungary nor Poland have received their share of the Recovery Fund, the EU’s initiative to revive Europe’s economy after the pandemic. In addition, Poland has been fined 1 million euros per day since October. Now they are also under threat of ‘conditionality’ – a new mechanism that makes EU funds conditional on respecting its conception of the rule of law. If this notion were not too politicized, it might be reasonable, but as it stands, it leaves too much room for bureaucratic reinterpretation.
The European Court recently affirmed the legality of this “rule of law” mechanism, although its decision also comes with a strict framework for its triggering. The European Commission, finally showing signs of discernment, seems ready to wait for a better moment to trigger the mechanism. This welcome caution would no doubt come up against fierce resistance from MEPs, who continue to ignore that Europe is at war and that Poland and Hungary are on the front line. The resolution calling for sanctions may not be the latest episode in Parliament’s crusade.
How far will this frivolous exercise of signaling virtue go? Will the war definitively close the chapter of European innocence, or will Europe jeopardize its internal cohesion on the altar of political correctness? The European Parliament’s dogmatic attacks on Poland and Hungary are symptoms of the same mindset that has led Europeans to condescend to the rest of the world on climate change and universal values, to shut down nuclear power plants and reduce military spending, as the drums of war rumbled. The emperor is naked – and the problem is that some prefer that he stays that way.
The story did not end. On the contrary. And in time, he will put the European Parliament in its place and reveal whether this resolution will only be a source of shame or also of infamy.
Rodrigo Ballester, a former EU official, heads the Center for European Studies at Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.