Ursula von der Leyen sees herself as the secular head of a community of values called the EU. But European values – freedom, the rule of law and freedom of expression – are constantly being trampled on by some members and partners. The problems are big, not only in Poland and Hungary.
To say it straight away: Peter Handke, who was largely unpopular with his political bluntness, was right. The almost religious emphasizing and singing of “European values” – which is part of the joint morning prayers of parliamentarians and EU bureaucrats in Brussels – is a new form of supranational superiority. Peter Handke formulated his criticism of this European do-gooder chauvinism as follows:
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“All the tender deep values of humanity are everywhere. The values are in the forms of the great works. Values are in a child’s sob. Or a child’s hop. European values? assholes. Whoever wants to, should contest his life with it or play on it or sing about it or paint it; but he should stop turning European values into an ax against others. People who talk like that are the new rabble.”
Of course that’s gross. But the fact is: European values – freedom, the rule of law and freedom of expression – are preached on Sundays and disregarded on weekdays. “The world needs more Europe,” says Ursula von der Leyen. She sees herself as the secular head of a community of values. She believes that in the evolutionary history of mankind, today’s Europe is the culmination of creation.
But European reality sometimes denies this moral claim to leadership. Just this week, a report by leading lawyers commissioned by the European Commission diagnosed serious deficiencies in EU member Hungary:
Hungary violated democratic principles “fundamentally, regularly and extensively”.
“The report proves that the EU Commission is apparently deliberately delaying sanctions against Hungary,” says Daniel Freund, a member of the Greens group in the European Parliament.
Again and again, central European values, which have been agreed upon in documents and at intergovernmental conferences, are also violated in other EU member states or partner countries.
Human rights problem: inhumane conditions prevail in overcrowded refugee camps on the coasts of Greece, Spain and Italy; Illegal push-backs occur again and again, i.e. refugees are pushed back without checking their asylum status, and the state uses violence, even to the point of death. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says:
“The conditions on the islands are appalling and shameful at the same time.”
Problem Turkey: Europe maintains a dubious friendship with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in NATO and in refugee policy. There has been a refugee agreement with him since 2016, six billion euros flow from the EU into the Turkish state budget every year to stop the flow of migration into the European Union.
The truth is a contradictory one: European values are also defended by the fact that Erdoğan is allowed to violate them. According to Amnesty International, torture is a regular practice in Turkey. Günter Seufert, Head of the Center for Applied Turkish Studies at the Science and Politics Foundation:
“The EU is making one concession after another without Erdoğan relaxing his policies.”
Amnesty International states in its current report for Turkey:
“The serious shortcomings in the justice system have not been remedied. Opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and others have faced baseless investigations, prosecutions and convictions.”
Problem Poland: The country is a leader when it comes to disregarding democracy and curtailing the rule of law. Recently, the right-wing populist government of Prime Minister Dr. Mateusz Morawiecki and Head of State Andrzej Duda for themselves the scope of EU law. The state wants to continue to punish judges and be allowed to fire them. The establishment of independent judges is “incompatible with the Polish constitution”.
Human Rights Watch states:
“Judges and prosecutors are subject to arbitrary disciplinary procedures when they advocate the rule of law and oppose problematic judicial reforms – an infringement on their judicial independence.”
The EU, which urgently needs Poland as a neighboring country to Ukraine right now, is refraining from taking really tough punitive measures and is thus tolerating the special path being taken in Warsaw.
The problem of regulatory policy: the European rules for sound financial policy are being deliberately and obscenely disregarded. Only nine countries have adhered to the criterion that debt may not exceed 60 percent of gross domestic product in every year since the introduction of the common currency. Only four countries saw themselves bound to the new borrowing of a maximum of three percent per year. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, without consulting his partners, now describes the EU debt limit of 60 percent of a member country’s economic output as “obsolete”.
The problem of sustainability: The role of a pioneer against climate change, which is ascribed to the EU, is only partially fulfilled. In Poland, the Czech Republic and Greece, the main focus is on lignite. In Belgium, Finland and France, nuclear energy is being expanded and not wind and solar. Only the European model children Sweden, Norway and Iceland consistently trust in renewable energies.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, CEO of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.
Conclusion: Europa is the student who has disguised himself as a teacher, the unfinished one who pretends to be a Meistersinger. Perhaps European values are best served by seeing them for what they are: sophisticated and unfinished. A good idea just waiting to be implemented. Europe describes an ambition. Or to say it with Loriot:
“Europe – the whole thing is a wonderful idea, but so was communism.”