Trans-Europe Express: Orbán’s Trump fetish backfires

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

Viktor Orbán must be feeling especially stupid right now. Following Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the Hungarian leader’s embrace of the US president’s 2016 victory appears increasingly misguided.

Hailing the Republican’s ascension to the White House as the “end of multilateralism,” Orbán saw in Trump’s presidency a sea change in Western politics, one that emphasised nationalism and the pursuit of self-interest over the irritating collectivism and group think of the European Union and its Brussels bureaucracy.

“We have received permission from, if you like, the highest position in the world so we can now also put ourselves in first place,” Orbán said in January.

Indeed, the architect of Hungarian ‘illiberalism’ was having a narcissistic moment, seeing in the US president something of himself, albeit magnified to the level of global leadership, not the leader of a former Soviet satellite state failing to impose his provincial worldview on corrupt elites in the West.

Trump would be the enabler who would legitimate Hungary’s status within the European framework as a regressive force, for which chauvinism and borders are first principles, not freedom of movement and religious tolerance.

The affirmation was perfectly summed up in their respective admiration for walls, holding back the mongrel hordes of outsiders seeking to pollute their imagined communities.

All of that seems somewhat quaint now, at least rhetorically speaking. By renouncing the Paris Agreement, Donald Trump didn’t just withdraw the United States from a quaint climate deal, dedicated to preserving national parks and endangered species. He also withdrew the US from the one progressive agenda that the neoliberal West and the developing world could actually agree upon.

Environmentalism may not be the sine qua non of left-wing politics that it once was. Capitalism is green now, to a certain extent. But it is the only socially acceptable echo of the left in a context in which the social has retreated, and labour politics are monopolised by populists and the far-right, not by unions and social democrats the way they used to be. The logic of neoliberalism is that strong.

Take that little bit away, and what Europe is left with is a very monochromatic political landscape, in which there is little to no political diversity, except on hot button issues like security and immigration. Environmentalism is that symbolically powerful, irrespective of the fact that issues like climate change are real and life-threatening, not just for individuals but the planet as a whole.

That’s what makes the petty triumphalism of autocrats like Viktor Orbán, and their embrace of Trump, so significant. In Europe’s growing alienation from the United States, it is also sowing the seeds of a deeper rejection of populism, and the fascist tendencies it has reawakened across the European Union.

Long live the Trump presidency, and its capacity to turn everyone the slightest bit leftwards.

The Inside Track

Fascists like animals. Silvio Berlusconi is intent on regaining his crown. So much so that the disgraced billionaire has decided to cash in on vegan PETA culture, albeit without the squatters and the dreadlocks. Enter his appropriately named Movimento Animalista (Movement for Animals) which the ex-premier helped found in May, with Michela Vittoria Brambilla, an MP for Berlusconi’s own Forza Italia.

The anti-Orbán.  He may be a billionaire, but his heart is in the right place, and he’s the political antithesis of the evil Jewish banker archetype caricatured by his Hungarian enemies. In an op-ed for Project Syndicate, George Soros says Europe is worth saving, but that the EU needs to get a firmer grip on its problems, slamming Brussels’ austerity policies, in particular.

From socialist to nationalist? Austria’s governing Socialists can’t seem to cut a deal with other left-wing and centrist parties to form a stable coalition government. So, in the run-up to the October election, Chancellor Christian Kern is considering cutting a deal with the devil – a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

Schizophrenic on defence. In a stereotypically German display of ambivalence, a PEW study reported last week that only 40% of Germans would back military support for a partner in “serious military conflict” with Russia. This week, however, the Bundeswehr fired back, pointing to its own December 2016 study, reporting that 73% of Germans are in favour of NATO defending its allies.

Turkish-Greek hostilities. No, it’s not about Cyprus or the Aegean. It’s about Greece being more welcoming to tourists than Turkey, engulfed as it is in an as-yet-to-be-called civil war with the Kurds. Foreign tourists are voting with their feet and heading to Greek beaches, but Turkish fisherman are successfully retaliating by lowering their export prices.

Secondary motion. Serbia may have a new president – ex-Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. However, the public is trying to guess who the new premier will be and whether an early general election will be called. Will it make a difference? Not really. Like Turkey, Serbia is run by its president. A fresh prime minister will only serve as window dressing.

European Spring. The election of Donald Trump came as a surprise to the world. But it shouldn’t have, writes Gazeta Wyborca’s Martin Mycielski.

Babiš is Czech for Berlusconi. The freedom of the press has been threatened in the Czech Republic by an over-ambitious, and undemocratic oligarch. But the country can solve the situation on its own, MEPs stated in a plenary debate on Thursday.

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