Why Macron’s ‘third way’ is EU’s best option
The largest question in democratic politics in Europe is: who’s in charge?
The issue was illuminated in the latest standoff in the European Parliament, where the body voted to sanction Hungary for its illiberal policies.
A club has rules, borders which cannot be breached. Hungary, a member since 2004, was this week judged to have crossed them. Orban, denouncing the move as one cooked up before the debate, was wholly defiant, saying that Hungary “will not accede to this blackmail.” The Orban confrontation dramatizes the issue: does a limited democratic association like the EU have the power to override an elected government like his own? Orban has excoriated the EU’s liberalism, above all its migrant policy, since his election in 2010.
Orban sees himself as upholding true Christian values, bearing the flame of a militant Christianity gone flabby in West European hands, and indifferent to, even encouraging of, an invasion of Europe by mainly Muslim immigrants. He will continue, and confidently – since the parliament’s vote to censure must be approved by the leaders of the 28 member states (including a still-Brexiting Britain), and there he has allies, above all in Poland and Italy, who can vote to veto it.
The Hungarian standoff has illuminated, cruelly but necessarily, the issue of authority.
The question is also one put before the Union by Emmanuel Macron, the leader most clearly opposed to the nationalist-populists. In pressing for a more robust advance to closer European integration, only the French president has put the issue squarely: who’s for federation? And who isn’t?
Macron’s fellow leaders had voted for a euro currency which was as much a mechanism for greater integration as a new means of exchange, agreeing to “ever closer Union” – while at the same time recoiling from a more strongly integrated banking and financial order which, the German governing center-right parties and the northern nations fear, would mean more irresponsibility from the southern countries.
Orban counts on these divisions. He sees the present strengthening of the nationalists, understands the reluctance of the Union to do more than make declarations, and meanwhile bides his time.
Macron, who has forced the pace and the need for a decision, has, however, also provided a third way between integration and the exit chosen by the United Kingdom. He has proposed a Europe of concentric circles, with an integrating core and increasingly weak adhesion to the Union in those states locating themselves in the spaces further from the center.
This is the way that should be taken: one which accommodates those countries that see the Union as an embryo state, and those which see it as a free trade arrangement with better inter-state cooperation on selected issues. Were it adopted, it would liberate the EU from its self-created dilemma – how to get the Union closer where many of the members wish to remain at a distance. They wish to do so because they wish to retain national sovereignty – as, it seems, the people who vote for them do. The nation state makes clear who is in charge; the European Union has deferred the issue to a future ideal state.
Orban grasps that one large truth, and has erected his semi-authoritarian rule upon it. Meanwhile, the Brits have chosen. The Hungarians, Poles and Italians have moved into the hostile camp. Others wish to remain ambiguous. But the time for ambiguity is running out.
*This abridged article is taken from Reuters