The EU should listen to the rebellious East

Poland and Hungary are leaving the EU’s basic consensus on some issues. But that doesn’t mean they are wrong about everyone else. Protecting the borders, rethinking refugee policy, not forgetting the nation-states – these issues came up in the East long before the West.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán repeatedly causes controversy with his politics and his statements

Dhe European reunification, which received its greatest boost 15 years ago, was comparable to that of Germany. In the beginning there were parties, tears of joy and many expectations. The earlier division and block formation were considered a historical slip-up, the unity was actually a return to normality. In the new freedom one traveled back and forth. Soldiers of fortune came from the west, built up, failed. Companies settled here, attracted by new markets, subsidies and low wages. The workforce went where they earned more, and the old elites were – in part – chased from the court.

The European growth in May 2004 was, proportionally, smaller than the German 14 years earlier, but enormous. With the admission of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus, the community grew from 15 to 25 member countries. Instead of 380 million, it had 450 million inhabitants overnight. Today, half a generation later, a similar disillusionment has set in in some of the young Member States as in the new federal states, which will celebrate their thirtieth birthday next year.

Subsidies at the expense of the Eastern counterparts

Economically, this disappointment must come as a surprise, because never before have the states in Northeast, Southeast and East Central Europe been better off than they are today. Prosperity – measured in terms of per capita income – is not only higher than ever in absolute terms, the level is also increasingly catching up with the EU average. The fact that there is still frustration is due to the speed of alignment. Because despite the good values, it can still take decades before full convergence is achieved. The most angry thing about people is the large gap in wages, although productivity comes very close to that of the West. The nominal gross earnings are only 40 percent of the EU average.

Because the labor markets have been swept clean, employees have recently been able to push through substantial wage increases. But that reduces the attractiveness of the location. It is no wonder that the VW Group does not want to build its next plant again in Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, but in Serbia, Turkey or at the EU latecomer Bulgaria. Last but not least, behind such decisions is the fact that the western locations are too expensive and only pay off if you pay too little elsewhere. In this way, the eastern workers subsidize their western counterparts, which creates a bad mood.

The grumbling in the East is expressed in support for parties that have little to do with the democratic and rule-of-law standards of the EU. This applies to Hungary, Poland and Romania, and in parts also to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These forces benefit from the fact that they offer a projection surface for the widespread fears and inferiority complexes. Such counter-images, on which rejection and demarcation focus, can be refugees as well as EU bureaucrats or speculators à la George Soros.

Independence and excessive bureaucracy

At 15, the Eastern EU is in the middle of puberty. She rejects old authorities and patterns of behavior, but lives well in a house that is built on exactly these standards. The European family shouldn’t let the young savages dance around on their faces. Anyone who goes overboard, for example by disregarding fundamental rights, should be whistled back: through the rule of law, if necessary through the limitation of voting rights and EU transfers.

But it is also right and important to listen to the rebellious. The fact that Warsaw or Budapest leave the basic consensus on some issues does not mean that they are wrong on all others. Protecting the EU’s external borders, rethinking refugee policy (and distribution), not forgetting the nation-states – these are issues whose importance the East realized long before the West.

It is also appropriate to criticize the eastern euro states of the aid to Greece and the indulgence towards other deficit sinners. After years of saving, almost all young members are financially better off than southern Europe. Taxpayers and governments rightly fail to understand why their discipline should pay for the indulgence of others. There are also legitimate doubts about the independence and over-bureaucratization of the European institutions.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz joins this choir, whose government is particularly closely connected to Eastern Europe. In the future, the EU Parliament should only meet in one of its two seats, Kurz demanded on Tuesday that the commission would also have to be downsized. It is time for the West to understand that not only supplicants and cross-drivers come from the East, but also initiators. This is the only way to achieve what is important to everyone: that Europe does not perish in competition with Asia and America.