The Sargentini Report: A Christian dilemma

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Participants attend a protest against the draft law on civil society organizations' transparency at the Heroes Square in Budapest, Hungary, 12 April 2017. The protest is part of a wave of recent protests in Hungary against various policies that are seen as a rollback of liberal democracy. [EPA/JANOS MARJAI]

More than ever, Europe’s democratic values are under threat and the political developments in Hungary perfectly illustrate that. Hence the importance of this week’s vote on Hungary in the European Parliament, writes Giulio Ercolessi.

Giulio Ercolessi is the president of the European Humanist Federation.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently delivered two speeches in which he announced the demise of liberal democracy and called to replace it with what he calls Christian democracy, a new way to designate his illiberal regime, camouflaging it into mainstream conservative semantics.

The statement is explicit:

“Let us confidently declare that Christian democracy is not liberal. (…) It is, if you like, illiberal. (…) Liberal democracy is in favour of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept.

Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration. (…) Liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model.”

Moreover, he intends to embed his regime in a “new era” that he defines as “a spiritual order, a kind of prevailing mood, perhaps even taste – a form of attitude (…) determined by cultural trends, collective beliefs and social customs.” We sympathise with supporters of pluralistic public debate who hear the echoes of the darkest ages of European history in such a declaration.

Finally, according to the Hungarian leader, migration ultimately leads to the disintegration of nations and states: national languages are weakened, borders become blurred and national cultures dissolve. He therefore wants to put an end to migration, which he sees as a building block of a European “master plan” to undermine nation states and build a supranational government.

Sadly, the world has recently seen one of the ways he intends to put this in practice: denying food to asylum-seekers whose asylum request was rejected. In his policy to discourage asylum seekers from applying for protection in Hungary, Orbán’s “Christian” regime not only prevented charities from providing food to people locked in the transit zone, it even forbade those who still received food (before their application was rejected) to share it with the others.

It is only thanks to the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights that these people received food, sometimes after 5 days of starving.

How Christian such inhumane treatment is, is left to everyone’s own appreciation but we do not doubt for a moment that many Christians are as shocked as we are. We do not doubt for a moment that many Christians refuse the instrumentalisation of their religious faith and values to curb human rights, neither at home nor elsewhere in Europe.

In the words of the Hungarian Pastor Gábor Iványi, “refusal, starvation, creating bureaucratic and legal hurdles, and spreading false news about asylum seekers is a particularly anti-Christian behaviour.”

Hesitant MEPs advised to ‘go for a coffee’ during Hungary vote

Next week’s vote in the European Parliament on whether to trigger punitive Article 7 against Hungary will be a moment of truth for the EPP political group, whose behaviour will largely determine its outcome, an influential MEP said on Thursday (6 September).

In the run-up to the 2019 European elections, Orbán’s ambitions are clear: he wants to rally any political movement that is ready to promote his illiberal visions and join his crusade for the survival of nations against what he depicts as a liberal Western Europe with supranational ambitions.

His recent rapprochement with Matteo Salvini, his proximity to Poland’s Kaczyński, the support of anti-immigration forces in this year’s Slovenian elections or the presence of extreme right Flemish youth at the summer university of his party all prove that the Hungarian leader is resolute in exporting his model and his ideas to other European countries.

Europe now has a choice: it either keeps looking the other way and accepts being slowly poisoned from inside or it makes a strong political statement, clearly rejecting this open denial of its common values and heritage.

This week’s vote on the Sargentini report in the European Parliament is exactly about this choice. While the report focuses on the successive measures taken by one government to undermine the rule of law, checks and balances and fundamental freedoms, its political message will be much wider.

It will confidently assert that Europe cherishes the existence of a wide political spectrum, pluralism and public debate but that these can only flourish if basic values and fundamental principles are respected by all.

In this context, who better than Christians could tell the representatives of political forces claiming Christian values that it is not acceptable that Orbán has encountered such timid resistance in Europe’s community of values?

Who better than Christians could tell politicians who claim to be Christian-democrats that European migration policies must be truly human and respectful of human rights? Who better than Christians could assert that Orbán’s regime has nothing to do with Christian values?

This week, they will face a choice too: they either condemn the instrumentalization of their values and call on all Christian-democratic forces to #VoteYes4Hungary and for Europe on 12 September or they will have to get used to seeing their values increasingly hijacked and used in discourses that strongly contradict the very foundations of their beliefs.

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