We talked with Professor György Schöpflin about, among other things, the problems of migration, juridocracy, federalism, cultural Marxism and the future of the Union.
If we immediately grab the bull by the horns, don’t you think that the European Union has strayed far from the values and ideals advocated by the founding fathers?
Yes, agreed, but would add that the problems that the founding fathers sought to solve were very different from what the EU faces today. What has been the central principle and justification for integration was conflict resolution by consent. The EU has largely given up on this principle and is now driven by the accumulation of power. I see this as dangerous, not least, because it reduces integration to a single factor that is pursued whether the consent is there or not.
Consent has emerged as a key issue in EU politics and we may well be at a turning point when it comes to defining democracy. The divide is between those who state that central to democracy is the consent of the governed, i.e. the sovereign people, as against those who insist that the heart of democracy is “values”, as defined by liberal politicians and the courts. The rise of political decision-making by otherwise unaccountable judges – like the European Court of Justice – transforms democracy into juristocracy. The Brexit vote is evidence that when a society feels deprived of political power, it will strike back (I write as someone who supported Remain, but fully accept the Brexit vote).
Marxism is in complete contradiction with European values, so how could the EU leadership celebrate the unveiling of the monument to Karl Marx on the bicentennial of his birth?
If you look at the recent transformation of European values – ever more power to the EU – they are not that far from Marx’s idea of concentrating power to transform the world, structurally at any rate. And the EU, the symbolic Brussels, has come to believe that it has this transformative role legitimated by history. Salvationism has a long history in Europe. What is worrying is that the EU is subordinating what it can to this political monoculture. Let me add that in practice the process is nothing like as far-reaching as Marxism-Leninism (or Titoism for that matter). And, of course, communist parties are there in the European Parliament.
Would you agree with the claim that cultural Marxism is destroying the foundations of our European civilization?
Whether we like it or not, Marxism and other forms of both left and right radicalism are a part of the European tradition. But I wouldn’t call it “cultural Marxism”, because there is a lot of Foucault in the mix, plus some thoughts taken from Rawls and Gramsci. I’m enough of an optimist to think that European civilisation is resilient enough for its foundations to live on, maybe in an altered state. The signs of resistance are visible. There is an interesting revival of Roman Catholic thought in France, there is growing evidence that in Italy, France again and in Spain the younger generation sympathises with centre-right ideas. And, maybe most importantly, there is nationhood, whether civic or ethnic. The divide between Central Europe, where nationhood is seen as the necessary condition of freedom, and the West is growing.
Why is the Brussels Eurocracy so opposed to Hungary and Poland, which want to reform the judicial system and clean it of the debris that dates back to the times of communist totalitarianism?
Because the EU has been captured by the liberal left and these liberals understand that their best chance of imposing their values on Central Europe lies through juristocracy. Hungary and Poland are in the cross-hairs because they are quite explicit in the pursuit of their national conservative project.
Why does Brussels insist on supporting mass migration from the Third World, even though experience shows that it brings ghettoisation, increased crime and violence, cultural and religious conflicts, and the financial burden?
There is a labour market answer, that Western countries need cheap labour to do jobs that no one else will do. But more importantly, there is post-colonial guilt, which is absent in Central Europe. The West finds this inexplicable and refuses to accept the relevance of both the communist and the imperial past (Prussia, Russia, Ottomans, Austria-Hungary) as a central feature of the Central European memory. Somehow these imperial subjugations don’t count.
Crucially, whereas the West was able (broadly speaking) to exit the trauma of the Second World War, this was and is not true of the communist ruled countries. And, thirdly, it is explained by universalism, that there is a single humanity and that it is Europe’s historic task to bring it together. This universalism has its roots in Christianity (equally in Islam), in Marxism and in the Enlightenment. Now that the Enlightenment legacy – that science solves everything – is in trouble, given that complexity theory undermines the Newtonian view of the world, the universalists prefer to ignore the evidence.
Brussels is working hard to impose a radical LGBT (and the rest of the alphabet) agenda on all members of the Union. What do you think is the cause and goal of this imposition?
Essentially because LGBT can be presented as a universal “vulnerable minority”. Note that the saliency of the issue is quite recent, it’s an easy issue to bring into politics and it means that other, equally “vulnerable” minorities, like the disabled, can be ignored. The protection of minorities is there in Article 2 of the Treaty, but the EU simply rejects national minorities as having anything to do with it – look what happened to the Minority SafePack, a Citizens’ Initiative that received well over a million signatures, but was swept to one side by the Commission.
Do you not find it hypocritical that the EU, on the one hand, declares its commitment to human rights and cooperates with China, where people are tortured in camps on the basis of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation and even used as slave labour?
You can call it hypocritical, but it can equally be called pragmatism. Note that ignoring the fate of the Uighurs has a universalist logic. If the West were to adopt the Uighur cause, then why not other ethno-religious minorities that are badly treated?
You do not find it interesting that Brussels imposes centralization on the members, but at the first major test, ie. pandemic of the Chinese virus, the bureaucratic mastodon completely gave up, and each country had to deal with the pandemic on its own?
To be fair, the EU had no experience in health issues – these are member state competence – and when it came face to face with the Covid crisis, it made an almighty mess of it. The Commission had neither the human resources nor the infrastructure to deal with the pandemic. The EU tripped up on its own belief system, that “more Europe” is the answer to everything. The same is true of the 2008 financial crisis and migration (2015).
The leadership of the Union reacts sharply against any member that does not want to fully submit to their agenda; Poland, Hungary, and recently also Slovenia. They threaten with suspensions, blockade of financial resources, exclusion. Did Brexit not taught these people anything, they want the disintegration of the Union?
In truth, Brexit was a great relief to Brussels, because – or so many people thought – the absence of the UK would make it easier to pursue the federalist agenda. Poland, Hungary, actually Central Europe as a whole, are an unwelcome obstacle to that agenda. But note that there are anti-federalist member states in West, like Sweden, not to mention the approximately one-third or more of Western voters who are anti-federalist. I find the rise of Vox (Spain) or Chega (Portugal) fascinating in this context.
You have been a Member of the European Parliament for a long time. Can you tell us how strong the influence of lobby groups is on the functioning of this body?
I’m the wrong person to ask because I mostly worked in non-legislative committees (Constitution, Foreign Affairs), so I was not worth lobbying. But anecdotally, yes, there is endless lobbying, just as there is in the Commission. And these lobbies are accountable to no one. The same is true of the Brussels NGO-think tank ecosystem.
Finally, can you tell us your view on the future of the European Union?
Starting with my first answer – democracy at the crossroads and the decline of conflict resolution – I see major disagreements ahead. The Single Market is beneficial, though much less for the economically weaker Central Europeans, but political clashes will not be easy to resolve as long as the liberal-federalist current holds sway. Can Europe be further integrated without the consent of a sizeable minority? I would say no, unless it is pursued coercively – the signs of this coercion exist and are hard to ignore. The countries of Central Europe have a very recent experience of coercion and reject it.
In this connection, the Declaration of 16 parties of the 2 July on the future of the EU is of considerable significance, because it offers a clear, alternative basis for the integration of Europe, one where the member states play an active role and supervisory institutions can check the Brussels federalists. Crucially, the centre-right insists that democracy is about consent and consent cannot be overridden by “values”. A system ruled by values undermines its own pluralism and is well on the way to becoming an oligarchy. The left may well dismiss this as “populism”, but the commitment to the superiority of democratic voting to elite rule (through juristocracy) is the heart of democracy as it has emerged in Europe in the last two-three centuries.
To quote the Declaration, “the use of political structures and the law to create a European superstate and new social structures is a manifestation of the dangerous and invasive social engineering known from the past, which must provoke legitimate resistance”.
The elections to the European Parliament in 2024 could well turn out to be a watershed in the history of Europe, giving consent a qualitatively stronger role.
György Schöpflin (b. Budapest 1939) was formerly professor of politics at the university of London, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament (2004-2019) and is currently Senior Research Fellow at iASK (Kőszeg) and at the Public Service University Budapest. His most recent book is “The European Polis” (Ludovika, 2021)