The divide between progressive western Europe, and conservative nationalist central and eastern Europe, is widening and the bad blood is getting worse. This week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been in the US talking to Republicans, many of whom like his model of how a country should be run. Orbán was a noted ally of President Trump, while Fox News host Tucker Carlson even took his eponymous show to Hungary last year.
Despised in Brussels – but welcomed by the American Right – the Orbán visit points to the growing cultural divide within the EU.
Back on the Continent both Hungary and Poland remain at loggerheads with the EU over rule-of-law disputes and releasing EU funds.
For Brussels, Poland’s government has too much political control over Polish courts, while the EU accuses Hungary of a lack of judicial independence.
For Budapest and Warsaw, however, this is nothing more than a thinly-disguised attempt to impose liberal values on their conservative countries.
While the European Commission has now agreed to launch a rule-of-law mechanism against Hungary, the European Parliament is also pushing the Commission to take more aggressive action in response to central and eastern European rhetoric and laws, such as against LGBT people.
This confirms suspicions in central and eastern Europe that the real agenda is ideological and not judicial.
Last month, the Commission decided to sue Hungary over what it sees as an anti-LGBT law as well as Budapest’s refusal to renew the license of government-critical Klubradio.
Hungary and Poland have certainly dug their heels in when it comes to traditional values.
Since coming to power, Orbán, for instance, has overseen a constitution with references to God and Christianity; funded Christian schools, and banned content deemed to promote LGBT issues to minors
None of this endeared him to Brussels but it proved extremely popular within Hungary, as well as the wider central and eastern European region.
Since Orbán returned to power in 2010, marriages have also doubled, divorces and abortions have hit record lows, and the birth rate has risen by a quarter.
Meanwhile, over in Poland, it was reported that the number of legal abortions fell by 90 percent in 2021 after Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2020 that it was unconstitutional for women to terminate pregnancies in cases of severe and irreversible foetal abnormalities.
Again, a culture war flashpoint.
What we are seeing then are two Europes – one multicultural, progressive and secular; the other more homogeneous, conservative and religious.
Poland has overtaken Italy as the European country with the most practising Catholics, while once atheist communist Hungary is now more than 80 percent Christian.
Unlike in the US, where inter-state and intra-state divides make any pulling apart of the country near impossible, the EU could have an amicable divorce before things turn really nasty.
The Cultural Iron Curtain – which pretty much tracks the Cold War Iron Curtain – offers a neat partition line.
Meanwhile, unlike the US, the EU doesn’t yet have all the trappings of a country. Furthermore, most countries in central and eastern Europe never joined the euro, making extricating from the EU much easier, while most countries in that region are set to become net contributors to the EU by 2030.
Hungary and Poland refuse to back down, not just over judicial matters, but ideology. Although the EU has had a minor victory in Slovenia, where a more progressive government recently came to power, the trends remain clear. Both sides must surely now realise that keeping their economic ties while engaging in a clean political divorce may be the surest route to resolution.