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The "Do you still believe in European values?" Edition

The "Do you still believe in European values?" Edition
By Weekly Focus (beta archive) • Issue #7 • View online
This newsletter was part of the beta version of n-ost’s Weekly Focus and originally published on December 30, 2020. 

2020… a cursed year most of us would like to forget as soon as possible. But when it comes to European integration, drawing a final conclusion for this eventful year is not as easy.
After a long decade of consecutive crises, the creation of an impressive and historical European Recovery Fund and the issuance of the common European debt have raised hopes for a better, more just, and more integrated Europe. After all, nothing brings people closer than common debt, doesn’t it?
But at the same time, 2020 also questioned the very foundations of our so-called „European values“: The Council of the European Union, now headed by Germany, agreed to weaken the new budget’s link to the rule of law principle – a decision welcomed by semi-authoritarian Poland and Hungary. Moreover, these countries’ inhumane attitude towards refugees coming to Europe has been officially accepted in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Going further, no one seems to be particularly concerned about the introduction of an almost total ban on abortion in Poland, either.
During our editorial meeting, we complained to each other about the overwhelming presence of COVID-19, which didn‘t leave European journalists and media much space to see beyond the tip of our nose. But all these issues bring to bear a severe question about the very foundations of Europe’s future: Is the EU willing and able to protect its values and the rights of its citizens when its member states keep undermining them? 
Kaja Puto, this week’s coordinating editor
This week's editorial team: Ervin Gűth, Kaja Puto, Francesca De Benedetti, Sebastian Christ, Olena Babakova
This week's editorial team: Ervin Gűth, Kaja Puto, Francesca De Benedetti, Sebastian Christ, Olena Babakova
🇭🇺 “Brussels cannot save us from ourselves”
"No matter how good it feels to read this statement we have to keep in mind that the ‘EU’ or ‘Brussels’ can't and in some cases doesn't even want to save us from ourselves. Our fight has to be fought at home, nobody will defeat Fidesz for us". Screenshot: Facebook
"No matter how good it feels to read this statement we have to keep in mind that the ‘EU’ or ‘Brussels’ can't and in some cases doesn't even want to save us from ourselves. Our fight has to be fought at home, nobody will defeat Fidesz for us". Screenshot: Facebook
While praising the European Parliament for its insistence on adopting the rule-of-law mechanism and its decision to add what he calls a “brave statement” to the next EU budget, the independent Hungarian MP Ákos Hadházy is arguing that these kinds of decisions are not really so much about Hungary at all – as most Hungarians think.
Hadházy, known for his anti-corruption efforts, also adds that it would be much more effective if Hungary was forced to become a member of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office since they could then investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment Hungarian crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud. For this, he and the opposition parties have even collected almost 700,000 signatures.
In his viral Facebook post, he also explains that the help of the EU for this matter shouldn’t be overrated anyway. A common misunderstanding (or false hope) shared among opposition party politicians and their voters was the expectation, that the EU would be able to save Hungary from Orbán’s autocratic tendencies.
This belief was also fuelled by the billions of public money spent on government propaganda with the message that a freedom fight is being waged against “Brussels bureaucrats” who want to tell Hungarian people how to live their life.
But the past decade and, even the past couple of weeks have shown that this is not how European politics work – they work on the basis of compromises, agreements, and deals. And, obviously, some lengthy complaints, procedures, and court cases.
Ervin Gűth is a Hungarian freelance journalist and editor at the independent regional online portal szabadpecs.hu.
Ervin Gűth is a Hungarian freelance journalist and editor at the independent regional online portal szabadpecs.hu.
🇮🇹 Solidarity is not an option
A member of the European Parliament is showing a picture of an abused refugee during the presentation of the Croatian Presidency. Photo: flickr.com/theleft_eu (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A member of the European Parliament is showing a picture of an abused refugee during the presentation of the Croatian Presidency. Photo: flickr.com/theleft_eu (CC BY-SA 2.0)
At the beginning of the pandemic, Italy was Europe’s guinea pig. When our Minister of Health sought European solidarity, Paris and Berlin blocked the export of medical supplies. On the 3rd of March, Ursula von der Leyen was intent on defining Greece as “Europe’s shield”. It took her days – while the situation became progressively worse in Germany and France – to make a solidarity speech about Italy.
Now that we have common debt, now that the “Frugals” have lost, can we really claim that the European value of solidarity is a key principle of the EU? Italy’s media, along with the political discourse, are now all focused on the question: who will get to manage the recovery plan and how will the funds be deployed? “Follow the money.”
However, solidarity doesn’t only mean money, it is also about political will. Migration is a good litmus test. In autumn, Von der Leyen said she would have “reset” Dublin. It turns out that her proposal on migration proposes solidarity only as an option. Repatriations and border “protection” are only “encouraged”, legitimizing the right-wing populists’ approach to the issue.
Cross-check this plan with the Frontex scandal and the growing amount of European pushbacks. In a further absurd gesture, the Commission increased funds for Croatia’s police and even plans to expand Frontex’s staff and role. If you are looking for solidarity, a Black Book of pushbacks is a bitter pill to swallow: this “Spoon River Anthology” of atrocities only reveals solidarity’s continuing absence.
Francesca De Benedetti is an Italian journalist with a European vocation, she writes about European politics at editorialedomani.it.
Francesca De Benedetti is an Italian journalist with a European vocation, she writes about European politics at editorialedomani.it.
🇵🇱 One question to... Robert Biedroń
Robert Biedroń, one of Poland’s first openly gay politicians, initiated the EP’s resolution to “condemn” the Polish Constitutional Court’s ruling over the widely criticised abortion ban.
Robert Biedroń, one of Poland’s first openly gay politicians, initiated the EP’s resolution to “condemn” the Polish Constitutional Court’s ruling over the widely criticised abortion ban.
Mr. Biedroń, the EP’s resolution condemning the de-facto total ban on abortion in Poland is a nice symbolic gesture, but how can it practically help Polish women – if at all?
“First, it is worth noting that this is the most progressive resolution ever adopted by the European Parliament on reproductive rights, supported by as many as 455 MEPs, including members of the conservative European People’s party.
Thanks to it, we managed to call on the European Commission to support member states in providing access to sexual and reproductive health services, including the right to abortion. We already have a very important declaration by the European Commission that it is going to work on such solutions in the future.
Another important news is the inclusion of the right to abortion in the next EU Health Strategy – this means that we will have an EU document concerning abortion that will apply to all member states.
Finally, the resolution calls on member states to give each other mutual support for women who want to abort their pregnancies and calls for support for organizations that help women to undergo an abortion.”
Kaja Puto is a Polish freelance journalist with a focus on Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, migration and European issues.
Kaja Puto is a Polish freelance journalist with a focus on Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, migration and European issues.
🇩🇪 For Germany, European values are nothing but foreign policy
Carnival in Düsseldorf. Photo: twitter.com/kreon_nrw
Carnival in Düsseldorf. Photo: twitter.com/kreon_nrw
In Germany, when it comes to Europe, there is a rather unpleasant paradox: Germans prefer to talk more about democratic values than to actually do anything about them.
This is constantly causing damage – such as the lazy compromise on linking access to the EU recovery package to respect for rule of law criteria. But unfortunately, nothing is going to change, not even after Angela Merkel’s term as chancellor comes to an end in 2021.
The basic problem is that most Germans are not particularly interested in foreign policy. And this is why the German EU Council presidency ends by yielding to Poland and Hungary.
If you ask the Germans about it, they will of course protest angrily. After all, every adult German has an opinion about Viktor Orbán, and it is usually not a positive one. The situation is similar with regard to the state of democracy in Poland.
But when it comes to setting priorities, however, displeasure with the policies of Fidesz and PiS does not even play a secondary role. For the 2017 federal election, the opinion research institute Infratest Dimap asked voters about the 15 most important issues in the election campaign. European policy came in 15th place.
This is also how the compromise on the weakening of the rule of law conditionality, which came about through the mediation of Germany, is to be understood. Even if 80% of Germans think that the European budget should be linked to the rule of law principle, Chancellor Angela Merkel does not have to justify herself in Germany. Most people were not bothered about it.
Incidentally, this is by no means an isolated case in 2020. In September, for example, “Spiegel” author Elke Schmitter criticized the fact that prominent German feminists had so far made almost no comment on the protests in Belarus, which were often dominated by women. The headline of her text was “A sexist and brutal patriarchy, doesn’t that trigger enough?”.
Similarly, the protests of anti-abortion women in Poland, while present in the news, did not become a topic of debate – because it apparently did not stir the Germans much.
Compassion cannot appear on demand; it must come from within. But perhaps it would be a start if the Germans would reflect on how far their idealistic self-image diverges from the harsh reality.
Sebastian Christ is a German political journalist and editor at tagesspiegel.de, where he writes about the regulation of data protection and cybersecurity.
Sebastian Christ is a German political journalist and editor at tagesspiegel.de, where he writes about the regulation of data protection and cybersecurity.
🇺🇦 Number of the week
Despite the fact that Ukraine’s membership in the EU looks unrealistic, the ‘European dream’ has firmly taken root in the hearts of Ukrainians. According to the “New Europe” survey, 66.6% of Ukrainians support accession to the European Union. Moreover, 70% believe that Kyiv should continue reforms even without the prospect of EU membership.
But such a commitment to EU integration is easy to explain: for a majority of Ukrainians, it is synonymous with a high standard of living. Few in Kyiv pay much attention to tensions inside the EU, such as those that exist between Brussels, Budapest, and Warsaw. It is not the attack on Polish courts or freedom of speech in Hungary that really impresses Ukrainian citizens, but rather Europe’s ability to draw up a budget of 750 billion euros.
But in 2020, Europe for Ukrainians symbolizes not only a guarantee of wealth and stability but also of physical survival. Considering the chaotic actions of Zelensky’s team during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the poorly-planned mass vaccinations, even a poor resident of Italy or Germany today can feel safer than a rich citizen of Ukraine. Too desperate to wait for EU accession, Ukrainians are betting on emigration: for the third year in a row, they are the leaders in obtaining the first residence permits in the EU.
In Ukraine, mass migration to the West is called “individual European integration.” Whatever happens, humor has always been the most highly prized Ukrainian value. And while Ukrainians are laughing at themselves, the EU simply expresses another deep concern.
Olena Babakova is a Polish-Ukrainian freelance journalist specializing in migration and international relations.
Olena Babakova is a Polish-Ukrainian freelance journalist specializing in migration and international relations.
What we were reading, watching and listening
‎European values and what they mean in the region today (podcast)
How Orban played Germany, Europe's great power
To Save the Rule of Law you Must Apparently Break It
Why Poland is having huge protests (video)
How to Care for Your Human Rights (podcast)
Die Schäferhündchen-Frage | Russlanddeutsches Diarama
This issue was coordinated by Kaja Puto.
This issue was coordinated by Kaja Puto.
This newsletter issue was supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. 
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