Soros sends message to Hungary's Orbán

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Today’s European Union needs both salvation and radical reinvention, but there is still hope, Hungarian-born financier George Soros said in an op-ed in opinion website Project Syndicate on Thursday. He has also addressed the campaign Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is conducting against him.

Europe and the euro

“Today’s European Union needs both salvation and radical reinvention. Saving the EU must take precedence, because Europe is in existential danger," Soros said in an op-ed titled ‘Standing up for Europe’.

The opinion piece is available in ten languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Czech. The Hungarian version was published by hvg.hu.

Soros believes the existential danger the EU faces is partly external.

“The Union is surrounded by powers that are hostile to what it stands for - Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt, and the America that Donald Trump would create if he could."

“But the threat also comes from within."

The EU is governed by treaties that, following the financial crisis of 2008, became largely irrelevant to conditions prevailing in the eurozone. Even the simplest innovations necessary to make the single currency sustainable could be introduced only by intergovernmental arrangements outside the existing treaties. And, as the functioning of European institutions became increasingly complicated, the EU itself gradually became dysfunctional in some ways.

In his view, “the eurozone in particular became the exact opposite of what was originally intended."

Whereas the EU was originally meant to be a voluntary association of like-minded states that were willing to surrender part of their sovereignty for the common good, after the 2008 financial crisis, the eurozone was transformed into an arrangement "whereby creditor countries dictated terms to debtor countries that couldn’t meet their obligations. By dictating austerity, the creditors made it practically impossible for the debtors to grow their way out of their liabilities."

“If the EU carries on with business as usual, there is little hope for improvement. That is why the Union needs to be radically reinvented," Soros said.

He is convinced that Brexit will be “immensely damaging to both sides", therefore the EU should approach the Brexit negotiations “in a constructive spirit, recognizing the unpredictability of the future."

Soros thinks the talks are bound to last longer than the two years allotted to them. He thinks five years is more likely, and negotiating the separation with Britain will divert the EU’s attention from its own existential crisis.

“It would require EU-wide recognition that Brexit is a step toward European disintegration - and thus a lose-lose proposition. By contrast, making the EU attractive again would give people, particularly the younger generations, hope for a better future."

Soros said such a Europe would differ from the current arrangement in two key respects:
  • it would clearly distinguish between the EU and the eurozone;
  • it would recognize that the eurozone is governed by outdated treaties, and that its governance cannot be altered because treaty change is impossible.

“The EU has become an organization in which the eurozone constitutes the inner core and the other members are relegated to an inferior position. This must change. The euro’s many unresolved problems must not be allowed to destroy the EU."

Soros believes that "replacing a “multi-speed" Europe with a “multi-track" Europe that allows member states a wider variety of democratic choices would have a far-reaching beneficial effect."

As it stands, member states want to reassert their sovereignty, rather than surrendering more of it. But if cooperation produced positive results, attitudes might improve and objectives pursued by coalitions of the willing might attract universal participation.

Three areas

Soros warns that meaningful progress is indispensable in three areas: territorial disintegration, exemplified by Brexit; the refugee crisis; and the lack of adequate economic growth. “On all three issues, Europe starts from a very low base of cooperation," he said.

Soros added he is encouraged by the “spontaneous, grassroots initiatives - most supported mainly by young people - that we see nowadays."

He mentioned the “Pulse of Europe" movement, which started in Frankfurt in November and spread to some 120 cities across the continent; the “Best for Britain" movement in the UK; and the resistance to the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, and to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary.

Message to Orbán

“The resistance in Hungary must be as surprising to Orbán as it is to me. Orbán has sought to frame his policies as a personal conflict with me, making me the target of his government’s unrelenting propaganda campaign.“He casts himself as the defender of Hungarian sovereignty and me as a currency speculator who uses his money to flood Europe with illegal immigrants as part of some vague but nefarious plot.

“But the truth is that I am the proud founder of Central European University, which, after 26 years, has come to rank among the world’s top 50 universities in many of the social sciences. By endowing CEU, I have enabled it to defend its academic freedom from outside interference, whether by the Hungarian government or anyone else (including its founder)."

Soros said the two lessons he has learned from this experience is that
  • “it is not enough to rely on the rule of law to defend open societies; you must also stand up for what you believe;
  • “democracy can’t be imposed from the outside; it needs to be achieved and defended by the people themselves."


Soros is confident that the determined defense of academic freedom and freedom of association by CEU and his foundations’ grantees “will eventually set in motion Europe’s slow-moving wheels of justice."“I admire the courageous way Hungarians have resisted the deception and corruption of the mafia state Orbán has established, and I am encouraged by the European institutions’ energetic response to the challenges emanating from Poland and Hungary. While the path ahead is perilous, I can clearly see in such struggles the prospect of the EU’s revival," Soros concluded.

Front page photo by: OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL / AFP
 

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