Problems surrounding a conference of right-wing European populists: first it was canceled, then it took place. The party is using this as propaganda.

Politician Nigel Farage in front of police officers.

Right-wing politician Nigel Farage on April 16 in Brussels, in front of the conference venue Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

BRUSSELS taz | Right-wing populists in Brussels? So far that hasn't been a problem. The right is only strong in Flanders. In the Belgian capital, however, the liberals, socialists and greens set the tone. In current polls, the Marxist Belgian Workers' Party (PTB) is even ahead: Brussels is moving to the left.

So it is not surprising that there are problems when right-wing populists want to gather in the city. The National Conference on Conservatism, to which right-wingers such as Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom were invited, caused a stir beforehand. But what happened next does not fit at all with the city's cosmopolitan image.

Anti-fascist groups called for a boycott of the conference. The Concert Noble, a popular gathering place in the European Quarter, canceled the event. It also canceled the Sofitel hotel in Brussels' Etterbeek district, which Orbán & Co wanted to use. They eventually switched to the Claridge of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode.

It was first considered a ban and then passed.

But Mayor Emir Kir had concerns. He first considered a ban, then sent the police to cordon off the conference venue. As justification, the socialist politician referred to a possible disturbance of public order, although it was not entirely clear whether he was referring to the slogans of right-wing populists or the protests of anti-fascists.

The organizers did not want to let this go. They called the Council of State and explained that their rights had been restricted. Brussels was said to be restricting freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. In a late-night session, the High Court lifted the ban and the meeting was able to continue as scheduled on Wednesday.

The right strives to create a victim narrative

But the dispute does not end there. Right-wingers are using the incident to present themselves as victims of a repressive Belgian state and an overreaching EU. Cancel culture is now spreading in Brussels and European politics is behind it, according to the right-wing narrative.

Liberal politicians are also alarmed. The tone is set by none other than Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Even if local independence is a cornerstone of Belgian democracy, it cannot override the freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed in the constitution, he wrote in

Not only will the European Parliament be elected there on June 9, but national elections will also be held. Expected at the controversial conference were right-wing Flemish politicians who are calling for their region to separate from French-speaking Wallonia.

If Orbán is not wanted in Brussels, the summit would have to be moved to another place

The partial ban is a grain of sand for their mill. It also encountered opposition in Britain. A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the actions of Belgian authorities “extremely disturbing.” London is still recovering from the impact of Brexit, which former EU MP Farage had predicted.

Problems are inevitable for the EU

The EU also has to worry. After all, Orbán is not only a right-wing populist, but also the head of government of an EU country. For this reason, he will participate in the EU summit to be held in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday. If he is no longer welcome in Brussels, the summit would in principle have to be moved elsewhere.

But the EU does not want to let things go that far. It sees itself as a haven of freedom and democracy. An entire armada of new EU laws is intended to secure the European elections on June 9. The fact that freedom is now being restricted precisely in Brussels, the capital of the EU, is damaging the liberal self-image.

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