In recent decades, Central Europe has returned politically and economically to Europe. Nevertheless, one can sense a growing uneasiness among part of the political class which feels that it has not been fully accepted in the center of EU decision-making. The first seeds of an illiberal mood in countries joining the club grew with the acceptance of the superiority of Western institutions. This raises several questions. Is a centre-periphery polarity inevitable in the institutional setting of European integration? Can every nation be equally represented in its institutions regardless of its size and geographical location? What is wrong about being at the periphery?
It could be a disadvantage in hierarchical systems, but not necessarily in networks. The center and periphery can be mutually complementary, but are more frequently in tension. Eventually, one can turn the perspective upside down—as Viktor Orbán did in 2014—and claim that a country in a periphery could become morally superior to a decadent center.
In her analysis, Edit Zgut identified “an impatience with liberal constraints on the government with checks and balances viewed as obstacles of getting things done for the people” as a major symptom of illiberal backsliding. She rightly points out, however, the other side of the coin: “a political state capture and systemic corruption is partly financed by the EU throughout generous subsidies”.
According to Vít Dostál, dealing with the fringe of Europe has become both a moral and political issue because of notions such as “new avant-garde”, or “cultural counter revolution”. By nurturing “the identities of the lagging periphery” and by failing to “convince Western Europeans about the merit of European integration”, Central Europeans could find themselves “in the position of periphery unwanted, and perhaps forgotten again.“ Csaba G. Kiss also views peripherality through economic and moral lenses and describes it in terms of an inferiority complex.
Kacper Szulecki provides unique insight into internal EU migration, its motivations and dynamism. Central European diasporas living in Western and Northern Europe, channelled back home their disenchantment with host countries, migration, and more broadly with Europe and ‘the West’ He mentions the testimony of Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who described his disappointment with previous encounters with Western Europe as a successful CEO in the financial business. High hopes for recognition met with disinterest. I suspect more Central Europeans share such an experience.
In the end, there is a broader question as to whether the whole of Europe will not become a periphery in global terms. Will the European Union be able to make effective political decisions in order to remain geopolitically relevant? Or will Europe find itself in the position of a powerless object of competition between the United States and the People‘s Republic of China?
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