PEW’s latest report on Eastern and Western European divide is out

I was happy to give some hints on the European law related issues in the report. You can read the complete report here. It tells a lot about the present stage of European integration.

Differences over the meaning of ‘European values

Is Christianity a “European value?” What about secularism? And how about multiculturalism and open borders?

Leaders often cite European values when defending their stances on highly charged political topics. But the term “European values” can mean different things to different people. For some, it conjures up the continent’s Christian heritage; for others, it connotes a broader political liberalism that encompasses a separation between church and state, asylum for refugees, and democratic government.

For the European Union, whose members include 24 of the 34 countries surveyed in this report, the term “European values” tends to signify what Americans might consider liberal ideals.1 The “Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union” includes respect for cultural and religious diversity; prohibitions against discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation; the right to asylum for refugees; and guarantees of freedom of movement within the EU.2

These rights and principles are part of the EU’s legal system and have been affirmed in decisions of the European Court of Justice going back decades.3 But the membership of the EU has changed in recent years, beginning in 2004 to spread significantly from its historic western base into Central and Eastern Europe. Since that year, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have joined the EU. In many of these countries, the surveys show that people are less receptive to religious and cultural pluralism than they are in Western Europe – challenging the notion of universal assent to a set of European values.

These are not the only issues dividing Eastern and Western Europe.4 But they have been in the news since a surge in immigration to Europe brought record levels of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries and sparked fierce debates among European leaders and policymakers about border policies and national values.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has articulated one strain of opposition to the EU’s conception of European values, declaring in July 2018 that “Central Europe … has a special culture. It is different from Western Europe.” Every European country, he said, “has the right to defend its Christian culture, and the right to reject the ideology of multiculturalism,” as well as the right to “reject immigration” and to “defend the traditional family model.” Earlier in the year, in an address to the Hungarian parliament, he criticized the EU stance on migration: “In Brussels now, thousands of paid activists, bureaucrats and politicians work in the direction that migration should be considered a human right. … That’s why they want to take away from us the right to decide with whom we want to live.”

This is not to suggest that support for multiculturalism is universal even in Western Europe. Substantial shares of the public in many Western European countries view being Christian as a key component of their national identity and say they would not accept Muslims or Jews as relatives. And of course, the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, which many have suggested came in part due to concerns about immigration and open borders. But on the whole, people in Western European countries are much more likely than their neighbors in the East to embrace multiculturalism.”