Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros published an opinion piece Thursday on project-syndicate.org. The piece, titled “Standing Up For Europe,” argues for the “radical reinvention” of the European Union in order to save it from an “existential danger.”
Soros, the subject of relentless attacks, scapegoating and conspiracy theories propagated by Hungary’s Fidesz government, raised concern that the EU is surrounded by countries hostile to its values – “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 Soros also warned of internal conflicts which could mean the end of the union if substantial reforms are not undertaken to solve major problems in an EU which has become “dysfunctional.” He argues that the financial crisis beginning in 2008 rendered many of the treaties by which the EU is governed “irrelevant,” and acknowledged that “the eurozone was transformed into an arrangement whereby creditor countries dictated terms to debtor countries that couldn’t meet their obligations.”
Such power imbalances resulted in “member states [wanting] to reassert their sovereignty, rather than surrendering more of it,” Soros argued, and proposed replacing “a ‘multi-speed’ Europe with a ‘multi-track’ Europe that allows member states a wider variety of democratic choices which would have a far-reaching beneficial effect.”
Such a statement, remarkably congruous with much of the EU-skeptical, nationalist rhetoric recently coming from the Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán, might come as a surprise to the leader who has led a campaign to make a ubiquitous bogeyman out of Soros. A European Union in which member states enjoyed greater autonomy to pursue whatever repressive policies they choose, and impose them by whatever undemocratic means they choose, would be music to Orbán’s ears.
But Soros qualified his statement by condemning “the deception and corruption of the mafia state Orbán has established,” and praising the “spontaneous, grassroots initiatives” which have emerged in Hungary in “courageous” opposition and resistance to Orbán and Fidesz.
“The resistance in Hungary must be as surprising to Orbán as it is to me,” Soros wrote. “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).
“…it is not enough to rely on the rule of law to defend open societies; you must also stand up for what you believe. The CEU and my foundations’ grantees are doing so. Their fate is in the balance. But I am confident that their determined defense of academic freedom and freedom of association will eventually set in motion Europe’s slow-moving wheels of justice.”
The complete article can be viewed in English here.