Hungary and the future of Europe

At a January press conference Orbán noted that by 2030, in barely a decade, Africa was going to add 448 million people, according to United Nations data—a figure almost identical to the population of the post-Brexit European Union—and that migration pressure would intensify greatly as a result. Under such circumstances the interests of Europe’s immigrant-friendly and immigrant-unfriendly countries were bound to diverge. “In my view,” he said in late March, “everything that serves to stop migration is good, and everything that brings migration here is bad.” Others were just as categorical on the other side. In an unusually passionate speech before the Bundestag days later, Angela Merkel pounded the podium and said that only countries that accepted refugees had the right to influence the E.U.’s policy on migration. Manfred Weber, deputy chairman of Germany’s Christian Social Union (the conservative, Bavarian wing of Merkel’s movement), moved to exclude Orbán from the European People’s Party (EPP), the E.U.’s Christian Democratic umbrella party, and consign him to exile and opprobrium with the rightists and ex-fascists, where Weber believed he belonged.

Liberals in the immigrant-sated western E.U. countries found it bizarre that Hungary (like Poland) opposed immigration despite having very few immigrants by 21st-century measures. Orbán countered that it was perhaps only in low-immigration countries that one any longer had the freedom to oppose immigration. When he spoke with the leaders of western European countries where the migrant population exceeded 10%, they often confided that they were too fearful of rousing inter-ethnic hatred, or losing votes, to broach the subject. “If you’ve had such conversations,” he explained to a roomful of mocking journalists this winter, “you will have heard that they no longer talk about whether or not there should be migration. That is no longer a question for them: that ship has sailed.”

Facing the prospect of a massive influx of population from other continents in the coming decades, the E.U. was, like the United States in the 1850s, a house divided. The high-immigration states of the west could not tolerate the low-immigration states of the east. Orbán hinted that the immigrantlessness of the eastern countries was going to give them a great competitive advantage over the western ones, threatened by terrorism, burdened by welfare, stultified by an official multiculturalism. It was certainly possible to make the opposite argument: perhaps the western part of the E.U. would use cheap, imported labor to set up an economic system that the free-labor countries of the east would not be able to compete with. Either way, it looked like the continent would become all one thing or all the other.

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