The EU starts to show its rotten heart

The EU’s failure to deal with both the financial and migration crises prove the need for its fundamental reform, says Merryn Somerset Webb.


Hungary: refugees not welcome

Over the last few years MoneyWeek readers have had the enormous privilege of hearing from Bernard Connolly, author of The Rotten Heart of Europe, several times. You can watch my video interview with him or read the column he wrote for us just before the UK's EU referendum.

Those who have looked at them already will know that one of Bernard's fears has long been that the EU will force the different nations that make it up too far down the road to integration and along the way spark nationalism and rebellion. People need their own identities and their own cultures, says Bernard. Try and eliminate that and you "create a set of social tensions" that eventually lead to crisis.

That's now happening. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (known together as the Visegrad Group) are, says the Times, planning to start lobbying at next week's EU summit (which is supposed to "forge a new vision of Europe post Brexit) to "ensure that national governments are put back in the EUs driving seat."

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And what does the PM of Hungary, Viktor Orban, say the point of this is? It is to push the EU away from its current policies and towards new ones designed to preserve "historic religious and national identity. People don't change, he says, "national and religious identities still have their place." The EU can't change that and it should stop trying to.

All this is exacerbated, of course, by the immigration crisis: Hungary holds a referendum on 2 October that will very probably reject the EU's plans for an asylum quota system. It insists that most migrants enter Europe via other countries (it has a fence along the Serbian border) and that "Hungary cannot and will not suffer the consequences of the irresponsibility of other member states."

The EU will think that right now is a lousy time to have to deal with this kind of counter revolution and there is much muttering about how irritating it is that such heavily EU subsidised states should be the ones kicking back against the "liberal" values of the West.

But the truth is that, in the wake of its failure to deal with either the financial crisis or the immigration crisis, the EU has no justification at all for pretending that it does not need fundamental reform.

Orban reckons Brexit gives everyone a "fantastic opportunity" for a rethink. And he is right. It is. The UK voted out for a reason: the EU should have a go at figuring out what that reason was. Listening to the Visegrad group would be a perfectly reasonable start.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.