Pan-Europa-Express

European politics is more than the collection of 28 national sentiments, more than the theme of yet another Sonntagsrede, more than the regular summit of national chief executives. Way more than this.

The EU’s disagreement when it comes to foreign policy has a long history – just as much as the criticism at it. The disagreement, however, enters a hole new dimension when it is not leading towards inaction or at least ineffectiveness, like in most cases, but when in turns against the very own attitude.

Last week Viktor Orban was reelected as Prime Minister by the Hungarian Parliament. Mr Orban, apparently keen not to waste any time, was using his following inaugural address for the first EU snub in his new term. He openly claimed autonomy for the Hungarian minority in Western Ukraine. To make sure that his message did not come unheard, he repeated his claim later in the week at the Visegrad conference in Bratislava.

Mr Orban reactionary and nationalistic policies are old news. Regarding his previous years in office, also his claim for autonomy for the Hungarian Ukrainians does not come as a surprise. He repeatedly rails at the Treaty of Trainon from 1920 (!) that reduced the then-Kingdom of Hungary to its current size and would cut a huge part of the Magyar people off of their motherland. Today, Hungarian minorities live in Romanian (Transylvania), Serbia (Vojvodina), Slovakia and Ukraine.

Ever since Mr Orban became Prime minister in 2010 he has been wooing these minorities. In an unprecedented act of mass neutralization, he distributed Hungarian passports in Slovakia and, to this day, does not miss a chance to ensure that he would be the Prime minister of all Hungarians – not only those who are living within the country’s borders. Although amoung observers nobody expects him to start and question extisting state borders, still such rhetoric has the potential to cause serious harm.

Especially in Ukraine. For one he is imitating the arguments of Vladimir Putin and thereby quasi legitimating the motives Moscow appealed to in order to annex Crimea. For another he puts the case for the imminent disintegration of Ukraine.

In its attempt to find common answers regarding the crisis in Ukraine, the EU is still blocked by the disagreement among the memberstates. The Baltic states, Poland, Finland and Sweden stick with their claim for harsh sanctions against Russia. Such measures are opposed the countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy. However, all member states agree that Ukraine’s territorial integrity has to be protected. And even the strongest opponent of serious measures against Moscow are and have always been unambiguous in their condemnation of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

With Mr Orban autonomy call that opposes its least common deminator towards the Ukraine crisis fundamentally, the EU is just about to lose the last bit of its ability to act. It is all the more inexplicable that there hasn’t been any major reaction from neither Brussels nor any other European capital. Only Donald Tusk, Prime minister of Poland, dared to object mildly. And some foreign ministries released statements that with his foray Mr. Orban is barely contributing to deescalation in Ukraine.

Just as is it was the case with the adoption of his dubious press law and the new constitution, Europe again shuns the confrontation with the Hungarian Prime minister. Every now and then, the Commission is calling on the government in Budapest for changes – but only in case of immediate violation of EU law. Some occasional political debate on Mr Orban takes place in European parliament – but not where it would be effective: in the European Council and his own party, the EPP.

Ever since the protests on Maidan square, European politicians burst with pride that a people calls for freedom and prosperity as they wave the European flag. They enjoy themselves in the role of the liberal and enlightened counterpart to the seemingly old reactionary Russia. In reality the Union is shown up by a Prime miniter, that in terms of nationalism and revisionism is in no way inferior to the Russian president. In that way, the EU’s ability to act gets once again lost somewhere in the big gap between wishful thinking and reality of European foreign policy.

This piece first appeared on TheEuropean.de on May 17th (in German). Follow me on Twitter @brnshnwd

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