EU Must Hold Firm in Rule-of-Law Dispute with Hungary, Poland

Viktor Orbán Giuseppe Conte
Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Giuseppe Conte of Italy attend a European Council meeting in Brussels, February 21 (European Council)

Hungary and Poland are holding up approval of the EU’s seven-year budget and coronavirus recovery fund, worth a combined €1.8 trillion, vowing to jointly veto so long as the rest of the bloc insists on tying funds to compliance with the rule of law.

The countries’ far-right governments, which are already being probed by the EU for politicizing their judicial systems, claim they are defending national sovereignty from foreign interference.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, said he would not “subject Hungary to a situation where a simple majority imposes issues upon the Hungarian people they do not want.”

The problem with that statement: 25 of the EU’s 27 member states support the proposed rule-of-law conditionality, as do 72 percent of Hungarians and Poles.

EU-wide support is as high as 77 percent, according to a poll commissioned by the European Parliament. Read more “EU Must Hold Firm in Rule-of-Law Dispute with Hungary, Poland”

Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes

Geert Wilders Thierry Baudet Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions from far-right politicians Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet in parliament in The Hague, November 27, 2019 (ANP)

Sorry for the lack of new posts in recent weeks. I’ve moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona and finding and furnishing an apartment has taken up most of my time.

Good news was awaiting me here, though. Forum for Democracy, a Putin-friendly, far-right upstart that only a year ago looked like a credible challenger to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party, is on the verge of collapse. Thierry Baudet, the party’s co-founder and leader, has stepped down.

Baudet — one of the few Donald Trump admirers in Dutch politics — broke with other party leaders to defend Forum’s youth wing, which for the second time this year was revealed to be a hotbed of far-right extremism. Het Parool of Amsterdam reported this weekend that multiple members had shared neo-Nazi content in the movement’s WhatsApp group.

In May, the party ejected three members for sharing similar content.

Baudet has winked at the alt-right with calls to defend “boreal” (northern) civilization from cosmopolitan liberal elites, who would “dilute” Dutch society by allowing immigration.

He claimed on Monday that the youth wing had been the victim of a “trial by media”. Read more “Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes”

Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Northern League, gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 29, 2015 (European Parliament)

It’s been a bad few months for Italy’s populist right-wing leader, Matteo Salvini.

First his erstwhile governing partner, the Five Star Movement, and the opposition Democrats outmaneuvered him by teaming up to avoid snap elections which polls predicted Salvini’s League would win.

Now his antics in reaction to the government’s coronavirus policy are falling flat.

Salvini and his party “occupied” parliament (refusing to leave the chamber) to demonstrate against the COVID-19 quarantine. He has tweeted out disinformation about the disease, claiming it was created in a Chinese lab. Few Italians care.

Polls find two in three have little faith in the EU anymore, which many Italians feel has been too slow to come to their aid. (Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world.) Yet it hasn’t given the Euroskeptic Salvini, who once argued for giving up the euro, a boost. Read more “Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party”

Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

I try to avoid Nazi-era comparisons, since they’re seldom appropriate, but Viktor Orbán isn’t making it easy. The only thing that could make his power grab in Hungary more like the Enabling Act of 1933 is if, like the Reichstag fire, COVID-19 really had been manufactured (in a Chinese lab funded by George Soros, if we are to believe Russia’s disinformation).

Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, Orbán has dissolved parliament and postponed all elections — indefinitely.

The Constitutional Court technically still functions, but it is packed with Orbán loyalists and provides no real oversight. For all intents and purposes, Orbán now rules alone. Read more “Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary”

Outrage over Right-Wing Alliance in Thuringia Is Overblown

Thuringia Germany state parliament
The state parliament of Thuringia, Germany debates legislation in Erfurt, June 12, 2019 (Thüringer Landtag)

Politicians in Berlin are up in arms about an alliance between the mainstream right and far-right Alternative for Germany in the central state of Thuringia.

Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the ruling Social Democrats, spoke of a “low point in Germany’s postwar history.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel called the election of a liberal state premier with far-right support “unforgivable”.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and presumptive successor, said it was a “bad day for Thuringia and a bad day for Germany.”

Hitler comparisons are rife, coming even from party leaders in Brussels.

This is all a little over the top. Read more “Outrage over Right-Wing Alliance in Thuringia Is Overblown”

European Elections Are About More Than the Far Right

European Parliament
Three young women listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 14, 2016 (European Parliament)

European elections kick off in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom on Thursday with most of the other 26 member states voting on Sunday.

The temptation is to force a single narrative on the elections. American and British media in particular are obsessed with the performance of the Euroskeptic right. But it is only part of the story.

The elections span a continent of 500 million people. Turnout in European elections is usually low, but those who do vote tend to do so on the basis of national, not European, issues. Hence the elections are less a referendum on the EU than a test for incumbent leaders and governments.

To pro-versus-anti-EU narrative also simplifies reality. Read more “European Elections Are About More Than the Far Right”

European Far Right Fails to Unite

Herbert Kickl Matteo Salvini
Herbert Kickl and Matteo Salvini, the interior ministers of Austria and Italy, meet in Brussels, July 12, 2018 (European Council)

Only three other parties turned up in Milan on Monday, where Italy’s Matteo Salvini had announced the launch of a broad Euroskeptic campaign for the European elections in May.

The attendants were the nationalist parties of Denmark and Finland as well as the Alternative for Germany.

Their counterparts from Austria, France, Hungary, Poland and the Netherlands did not show up. Read more “European Far Right Fails to Unite”

Far Right Fills Gaps Left by Merkel and Rutte

German chancellor Angela Merkel receives Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Berlin, May 16
German chancellor Angela Merkel receives Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Berlin, May 16 (Bundesregierung)

Mark Rutte has suffered the same fate as his closest ally in Europe, Angela Merkel. Both center-right leaders moved to the middle in a bid for centrist voters only to leave a gap on the right that the far right has filled.

In midterm elections on Wednesday, the Dutch Freedom Party and Forum for Democracy won a combined 21 percent of the votes, their best result to date.

In Germany, support for the Alternative is down a few points in the polls but still at 11-14 percent. Merkel’s Christian Democrats fell from 41.5 to 33 percent between the 2013 and 2017 elections. Read more “Far Right Fills Gaps Left by Merkel and Rutte”

Rutte Loses Senate Majority, Gains for Dutch Far Right

Aerial view of Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague
Aerial view of Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (Tweede Kamer)
  • Dutch voters elected provincial deputies on Wednesday, who will elect a new Senate in May.
  • The four parties in Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling coalition are projected to lose their majority in the upper chamber.
  • Far-right parties posted their best result to date, taking 21 percent of the votes. Read more “Rutte Loses Senate Majority, Gains for Dutch Far Right”