In early June, Slovenia propelled the nationalistic anti-migrant party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, to the top of the polls. Slovenia, the richest and most liberal former Yugoslav republic, may be poised to join the growing bloc of European states rejecting the cosmopolitan internationalism promoted by Brussels and the founding members of the European Union.
The vision of a multicultural European federation, ‘cosmopolitan’ Europe, is losing ground on all fronts, with belief in the European Union itself waning across the continent. The way in which European publics have pushed back against this model is varied. In the West, insurgent political movements have put enormous pressure on the domestic politics. Countries like France, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands have all experienced such pushes, but as of yet, none have broken through. In the United Kingdom an abandonment of the whole project is underway. Yet it is in the East that an alternative vision has been developed.
Replacing cosmopolitanism it is a brand of nationalistic politics, focusing on internal development, the strengthening of the nation state, and scepticism of European integration. Victor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, is often held as the poster child of this group, but the movement is far greater than one man in one country. This ideology, which can be forwarded by traditionally left, right or centre parties, has its genesis with the Visegrád group. This decades old alliance between Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary has recently been making steady progress in all directions.
Most immediately, the Visegrád group has found an ally to the West in Austria. The junior Coalition party in Austria’s government, the Freedom Party, has openly called for Austria to join the Visegrád group. Austria’s popular Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has worked to mainstream anti-EU, anti-migrant policies. To the South, the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, has indulged in increasingly robust anti-migrant rhetoric and faces a populace that is ever more alienated with the European project. Similarly, the radical left wing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras continues railing against the European Union, threatening to block its agenda unless it aids Greece in lessening migrant pressures.
Perhaps most significantly, Italy, a European behemoth, seems poised to break with the cosmopolitan internationalism of Brussels and align itself with the nationalists in the East. Indeed, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister is openly courting the Visegrád group. The defection of Italy from the cosmopolitan pro-Brussels block to the Visegrád group would be the greatest indication that the vision of the East has continent-wide appeal, and is not just isolated to a collection of small Central and Eastern European states.
There is a profound movement underway, Eastern and Southern European states are demanding that their interests and conceptualization of what Europe is, and should be, are taken seriously. Brussels, Berlin and Paris have inflexibly moved towards an ever more unpopular future. Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and Bratislava have protested against them and formulated a new, appealing and coherent ideology that pushed back against European cosmopolitanism. This vision is appears to be pulling Rome, Athens, Vienna, Ljubljana and Zagreb into its orbit. The Visegrád group has made a remarkable achievement, spreading a popular vision in all directions. It must be taken seriously.
Alexander Lee is a PhD candidate at the Australian National Security's National Security College.