Von der Leyen and her right-wing partners: firewall in ruins

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Written By Maya Cantina

Ursula von der Leyen pits the rule of law against transatlantic dogmatism – and works with right-wing extremists on that basis.

Illustration of a fortress with an EU flag

Illustration: Katya Gendikova

In December 2023, Chancellor Olaf Scholz offered Hungarian autocrat Victor Orbán: just do it to go out for a coffee break, while the other EU countries declared Ukraine a candidate for membership. Orbán actually left the room during the EU summit and did not veto it. Ukrainian Ambassador Oleksii Makeiev later described this procedural trick as “diplomatic masterpiece”.

You want to rub your eyes at the idea that the right-wing hardliner and Putin supporter Orbán was convinced by a childish ‘look away’. Of course not. The person pulling the strings in the background was primarily the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (CDU). Whether this is a diplomatic masterpiece – well. Green EU MP Daniel Freund described the process as horse trading. Von der Leyen had already raised the money a few days before the EU summit: 10.2 billion euros for Hungary. After all, about 6 percent of Hungary’s gross domestic product.

This €10.2 billion is part of the EU funding that was effectively frozen because Hungary violated some basic rules of the rule of law. In 2022, the EU Parliament gave the land denied the status of democracy. Barring judicial reform in May 2023, authoritarian conditions still prevail. Nevertheless, sanctions against Hungary were partially lifted in December 2023. And this happened to happen before an EU summit at which the Hungarian government wanted to be lenient. There is a lawsuit against Von der Leyen over the incident before the highest EU court, at the initiative of EU parliamentarians. The opposition criticized the fact that it allowed itself to be blackmailed by Orbán. The case can also be interpreted as an attempt at bribery on her part.

Solidarity – yes. Weapons – not necessarily

The process is not a triviality – and in its logic it is not an isolated case, but the epitome of European priority setting. As a government of a Member State you can be authoritarian, anti-democratic and openly right-wing extremist, as long as you adapt to the guidelines of foreign and economic policy. It is dangerous that violations of the rule of law are accepted on this basis.

As an EU member state you can be authoritarian and right-wing extremist, as long as you stick to foreign policy guidelines

Of course, an attacked state like Ukraine needs solidarity and support. However, the solidarity of the EU’s centrist parties is not only a noble intention, but also a geostrategic interest. Second, the mere request itself does not contain a viable strategy that could result in the unconditional consent of all states. Many EU citizens want a diplomatic solution. It is not clear whether further arms deliveries and EU accession negotiations are the most promising way to end the war. The question also remains whether Ukraine meets the minimum democratic standards of EU membership: it has done so since the Russian attack Freedom of the press and the work of the opposition are dangerously hamperedCorruption problems still persist.

The absoluteness with which the European People’s Party (EPP) is pushing its Ukrainian position is in itself inappropriate. Moreover, this dogmatic line apparently functions as a bargaining chip for EU countries in exchange for democratic norms. One is played off against the other. Orbán can remain undemocratic if he participates in Ukraine.

Shake hands with Meloni

The fact that there are inviolable – and questionable – fundamental pillars in the EU that stand above democracy became clear during the financial crisis of the 2010s, especially in Greece. Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister from 2015 to 2019, put the basic needs of Greeks ahead of the interests of private creditors and took a stab at the EU’s non-negotiable pillar of property – making him the ultimate leader. persona non grata in the EU and let it fail.

By comparison, right-wing Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d’Italia), Victor Orbán (Fidesz) and, until 2023, the Polish PiS party are doing quite well. Even very good. Under Italian Prime Minister Meloni, same-sex couples are denied parenthood of their children and sea rescuers are harassed and prosecuted. Meloni also plans authoritarian constitutional reforms. But no one in the EU really wants to blame her for that. Presumably because she is exemplary when it comes to foreign and economic policy. Hands are shaken and… Kisses given, made a number of trips together: Von der Leyen gets along excellently with the post-fascist. And not just them. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also praised Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) for his “good cooperation” at the level of the EU, NATO and the G7 – and thus got to the heart of the priorities: it concerns participation in military and economic alliances (G7 and NATO), not about democracy and the rule of law.

“The firewall that potential partners of the EPP must be pro-European, pro-NATO, pro-rule of law and pro-Ukraine, runs to the right of Meloni’s party in the European Parliament”, Jens Spahn (CDU) recently said honestly and without any inconsistency. Comparable to EU politician and EPP chairman Manfred Weber in an interview with the FAZ: “I have formulated three conditions for any cooperation: pro Europe, pro Ukraine, pro the rule of law.” In practice, the rule of law in this list is more of a formality – and can be replaced by the other points if in doubt. But this cannot be justified with pragmatism for an overarching goal.

Billions for Al-Sisi

The global shift to the right is an acute threat. It is irresponsible to ignore him out of realpolitical motivation, to turn a blind eye. Moreover, the suspicion arises that the anti-human policies of the right-wing governments are not only accepted by the EU’s center parties as collateral damage of a compromise – but are part of a common ideology: that of the murderous Fortress Europe.

In March 2024, Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Egypt with a delegation of several EU heads of government, including Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) from Austria, Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d’Italia) from Italy and Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Nea Democratia) from Greece. A mix of conservative to extreme right-wing politicians put a package of 7 billion on the table for the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah Al Sisiso that it continues to hold back refugees from the African continent. All involved must know the extent of the cruelty hidden behind the euphemism: violent expulsion of people, Abandoned and left to die in the desert, favorable conditions for human trafficking. In Libya, EU-funded detention of refugees has led in the past Establishment of infamous internment camps.

Too far away to shout?

With so much harmony on isolation policies and agreements in Ukraine, it was only logical and consistent that Von der Leyen announced in April that he would be re-elected to work together with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).. So with the faction in which the new right and their violent fantasies are teeming with everything from the Fratelli d’Italia to the PiS party to the right-wing extremist hardliner Eric Zemmour from France (“Reconquête”). Von der Leyen needs their votes to remain in office as president of the European Commission.

The memory of Thomas Kemmerich (FDP), who took office as Prime Minister in Thuringia in 2020, seems far away I had to give it back after a daybecause he was elected with the help of AfD votes. The EU level is apparently too far away to cause a similar outrage. And ultimately it is nothing new: Von der Leyen already left in 2019 with the votes of the PiS party and the Fidesz party in the office of Commission President – Significantly enough, it was already clear to the Hungarian and Polish right at the time that the CDU politician compared to competitor Frans Timmermanns No excessively harsh measures are to be expected in the event of democratic violations.

The shift to the right happened a long time ago

The deadly communal isolation policy shows: it is not just a pragmatic compromise, but an alliance full of ideological similarities that is taking place this time. Not only has the firewall fallen, but the red carpet is being rolled out over the rubble. The right-wing extremists who firstly maintain Von der Leyen’s power and secondly follow their party’s geopolitical dogmas are being courted.

Voter turnout in the upcoming European elections is forecast to be particularly high, as many want to prevent the feared shift to the right. But this happened a long time ago and will likely be further enhanced by this announced collaboration. Anyone who seriously wants to counter this cannot count on the center parties and must explicitly oppose them. This has consequences for Von der Leyen’s EPP as well as for the Social Democrats and the Greens. The latter have encouraged the shift to the right by partially supporting the reform of European asylum law. And for them too, the rule of law and the firewall are usually subordinate to economic and foreign policy goals.

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