When Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki met 10 days ago in Budapest with the aim of establishing a new “European Renaissance”, nobody focused too much on what exactly it meant. It is not yet clear whether it will be a federation of parties or a group in the European Parliament. But the project of building a European Union closer to their values actually hides a design on which the right wings have been working together for a long time in Europe.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the Italian party “La Lega”, says that “the cultural and ideological dominance of the left in Parliament and other European institutions, calls into question founding values such as the family”, as the EPP is too much subordinate to the left. Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki reiterates his desire to have an Europe founded on “traditional values and Christianity”. And of course, Hungarian President Victor Orbán has on the need to wall the wave of migration in order to preserve the European white family.
The objective is therefore no interference by Brussels on national competences. But is there something more?
The anonymous network of Agenda Europe
In fact, what is moving in the ultra-Catholic right wing is a much more complex and ambitious political project, which aims to erase human rights throughout Europe. The goal is restoring what the network of numerous right-wing groups, Agenda Europe, calls “Restoring the Natural Order”. Created in 2013 in London, Agenda Europe is a pan-European, Christian-extremist network, born anonymously and secretly. It convenes every year a summit that brings together the most important homophobic and pro-life organizations representing ultra-right movements.
The documents reveal that Agenda Europe is composed of about 100/150 individuals from at least 50 European conservative non-governmental organizations working against various aspects of human rights
These organizations are divided into “pro-life” and “pro-family”, involving more than 30 European countries. There are many categories: organizers, internal members, ideologists, executioners and financiers. And there’s a blog where members debate developments from an ultra-conservative perspective and share a manifesto called “Restoring the Natural Order”. This one promotes a radically reactionary world view that, if implemented, would remove human rights from the world, especially for certain categories such as women, young people and the LGBTQI community. A document consisting of 134 pages, anonymous, undated and without a trademark but which provides a detailed legal perspective.
Based on strict criteria of strict secrecy, Agenda Europe was born from a meeting with 20 North American and European anti-abortion leaders who had at heart “to develop a European thought group of Christian inspiration” for “devise new strategies for European anti-abortion movements”. Organized by the Austrian conservative and Catholic activist Gudrun Kugler, and the American Terrence Mckeegan, the London meeting had to be “strictly confidential”. When the blog “Agenda Europe” appears, harshly criticizing any progress in reproductive health, it becomes a reference point for many others. Among its ranks there are many political leaders and government officials from all over Europe, and it has the support of high Catholic prelates.
Its methods of propaganda are focused on accusing those who support women’s rights and civil rights of being discriminatory and intolerant towards Christians (Christianophobic). In particular, they call the restrictions and prohibitions they want to impose as “rights” to be claimed
But they also label opponents as violent and themselves as victims who fight against a totalizing and discriminatory system. So, the motto is: “We use the weapons of our opponents and turn them against them”.
Links in the institutions
In 2014 the summit took place in the castle of Fürstenried in the surroundings of Munich, the 2015 one was in Dublin and the one of 2016 was hosted by the Polish organization Ordo Iuris in Warsaw. The majority is Catholic, but the main representatives of Protestant and Orthodox traditionalists are also involved. Agenda Europe has evolved and has become the main organizational centre in Europe against human rights.
It is the only European network that coordinates the main NGOs to carry out “true rights”, including politicians and leaders of centre-right parties, with a network of faithful people within both national parliaments and the European Parliament itself
For example there are Luca Volontè of the Foundation Novae Terrae (the same in which participated the senator of the Lega Simone Pillon), former UDC MP sentenced to 4 years in prison for international corruption; Irish senator Ronald Mullen; Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski; Zejlka Markic, founder of the Croatian political party HRAST; Paul Moynan, political adviser to the European Conservative and Reformist Party (ECR); and Jakob Cornides, an official of the Directorate-General for Trade at the European Commission. Among the big right-wing NGOs there are Ignacio Arsuaga of Hazte Or, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), Lila Rose of Live Action, Marie Smith of Priests for Life.
But what are their main purposes?
They want to remove the right to divorce and access to contraceptives, assisted reproduction techniques and abortion. They aim to cancel lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex identities (LGBTI), in order to defend traditional marriage (including domestic violence). They exert pressure against equality legislation, preventing also the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women, and they want to counter threats arising from anti-discrimination laws. In order to do that, they’re raising public awareness of the persecution of Christians and of course putting women at the centre of their real function: mother of the family submissive to her father-master husband, thus restoring the natural order of things.
On marriage “the first essential step is to recognize its procreative purpose”. It’s an institution “that exists in the interest of children and in the interest of mothers raising children”
Marriage (between a man and a woman) is “not only one of many options for two people who want to start a family, but it is the only option morally acceptable”. While on divorce, the manifesto says that there are no international human rights that force countries to allow divorce, and that “legislation that allows a person to obtain divorce too easily could be considered a violation of the right to marriage”. Also, “the use of artificial contraceptive techniques is by nature an intrinsically immoral act”, and abortion is prohibited in the event of rape, incest, fetal abnormality or risk to the health of the mother: they point that this kind of legislation “if freely interpreted, would be similar to allow abortion on request”.
The methods of pressure
But how can they establish this order? The first step is to enter in governments and institutions, in national and international organizations (including the EU), seeking to create new laws or otherwise deeply influencing their content and process. Some examples are the 2016 Polish law to ban abortion drafted by Ordo Iuris, and the ban on same-sex marriage in several countries of Central Europe. But also, over a dozen similar actions at national and European institutions, with the precise aim of limiting the rights of women and LGBTI persons.
The Natural Order they want to establish, proposes a normative framework based on the unifying concept of “Natural Law”, thus transcending the specific theological and confessional considerations of the members. An action that is giving concrete results, as evidenced by the Polish experiment. This one is a perfect reference point of what could become the “Renaissance” Europe advocated by Salvini, Orban and Morawiecki, on the design of the network Agenda Europe, which is very close to the dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
The laboratory of the reactionary right of Agenda Europe: Poland
It started with the withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention against violence on women by Orban’s Hungary, which took full power last year. Then, Morawiecki’s Poland has succeeded in banning abortion even in case of fetal malformation with a ruling from the Constitutional Court. But right now, Poland is also working hard to get out of the Istanbul Convention, with the idea of proposing a Family Convention to be adopted by all those countries that support it. About 20 days ago the Sejm (Lower House of the Polish Parliament) voted the bill “Yes to the family, no to gender”, which authorizes the President of the Republic, Andrzej Duda, to leave the Istanbul Convention. On the other hand, he would be able to propose more suitable measures and to ask the government to create a team for writing a “Convention on the Rights of the Family”. A draft law that is now in commission with high chances of going through changes.
Instead of the Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries, the Polish draft law puts on the same level violence against women, men, children, the elderly, disabled people. This means erasing the notion included in the Istanbul Convention that considers male violence against women as a structural phenomenon caused by inequality between the two sexes in a misogynistic society
This view is shared by the Polish Episcopate, because the Convention would attack religion, even though it only says that it cannot be invoked to justify abuse and harassment.
The Convention on Family Rights against the Istanbul Convention
A bill which is on the base of the Convention on Family Rights that Poland has already proposed, through an official letter sent by Prime Minister Morawiecki, to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia. Letter introducing concepts of “crime against the family”, right of the child to conception, protection of marriage between women and men. This initiative has aroused the interest of Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania, and could create an alliance in Central and Eastern Europe, blocking the expansion of rights. A Convention where the weakening of the traditional family is indicated as the cause of domestic violence, which can be resolved by reducing state interference in family life and giving parents greater control over their children, rejecting homosexual relationships and abortion.
The powerful legal institution of Ordo Iuris
But who is working on the drafting of this “Convention on the Rights of the Family”, advocated by the right-wing government of Pis (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Law and Justice)? The answer is Ordo Juris, a powerful legal institution that with its group of lawyers has also written the draft law, now in committee, against the Istanbul Convention: “Yes to the family, no to gender”. Joanna Banasiuk, vice-president of Ordo Iuris, is a supporter of the argument that the Istanbul Convention is harmful: “A study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that Poland has one of the lowest rates of violence against women in Europe. Studies show that paradoxically violence against women is most prevalent in those countries where gender policy has been introduced and which have the highest level of so-called gender equality. Sweden, Finland and Denmark, where the rate of violence reaches 50%. That shows how gender-based solutions are counter-effective”. A reasoning without considering that the countries mentioned by Banasiuk have a very low level of submerged, unlike the others, Poland included, where women do not denounce for fear of not being protected by the institutions.
What is written in the “alternative” Convention?
The Regional Convention promoted by Ordo Iuris and supported by the Pis government, is quite different. It has already been signed by many far-right organizations in Europe who believe that domestic violence is caused precisely by the lack of a strong conception of family unity, corresponding to the traditional model composed by father, mother and children.
The authors state that the causes of violence are not related to structural gender inequality but to “pathologies” such as pornography, alcohol, drugs and sexualization of women in the media and in the public. it is essential to them eradicate these deviations, including also abortion and homosexuality
Article 37 calls on countries to cooperate ensuring criminal liability for those who perform illegal abortions. Article 14 calls on public authorities to “not in any way affect fertility reduction or make it difficult for families to have children”. The Convention on Family Rights has already been endorsed and signed by several ultra-conservative activists such as the Spaniard Ignacio Arsuaga (Hazteoir and Citizengo), Gregor Puppinck of the European Centre for Law and Justice and other activists from Central and Eastern Europe. The alternative convention was already presented to the European Parliament and in many countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia and Slovakia, which welcomed the proposal with interest. But the Polish Legal Institute is also leading a campaign calling on the European Commission to stop its efforts to ratify the Istanbul Convention. That’s because the biggest fear is that if the EU ratifies the Convention to combat violence against women, even the Member States which have not ratified it autonomously should implement it.
Against abortion: the organizations that formed the amici curiae
Ordo Iuris, however, did not only work to stem the Istanbul Convention. It has also drafted the 2016 bill (“Universal Protection of Life”) and in December 2020 presented to the Polish Constitutional Court the key to ban abortion: the amici curiae (legal arguments). But what are these? Agata Bzdyń, lawyer of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, explains: “It is an opinion used to provide a court with arguments on which its decision should be based. The Ordo Iuris Legal Institute has been following this practice for some time, including in Strasbourg, where it very often requests that its own ad hoc opinion be deposited by its lawyers”.
“I have examined a series of requests of this kind and I know the methods of verbal manipulation Ordo Iuris uses in support of his claims”
In support of the amici curiae against abortion, they signed an international network of far-right activists with 31 organizations. Among the signatures there are Professor Bogdan Chazan, director of Matercare (International Organization of Catholic Gynecologists registered in Canada); Patrik Daniska, president of the Human Rights and Family Policy Institute (HFI); the Slovakia Christiana Foundation, created by the Piotr Skarga Foundation of the Institute of Social and Religious Education in Krakow; the Croatian In the Name of the Family; the Vigilare Foundation, subsidiary foundation of the Piotr Skarga Association; the Voice of the Family network, which represents an organized opposition to Pope Francis and proposes the obedience and virginity of Santa Maria as a model for women; the Lithuanian Free Society Institute; Alix Lejard of the French organization Femina Europe.
But also Francesca Romana Poleggi of the Italian Pro Vita & Family (among the organizers of the World Congress of Families linked to Forza Nuova); Sharon Slater of Family Watch International (organization that in Uganda led a campaign to punish homosexuals with life imprisonment, as reported by Open Democracy); the American Population Research Institute and the Personhood Alliance (radical wing of the anti-abortion movement in the USA that fights to exclude abortion also as a result of rape or incest); Stefano Gennarini, director of the American Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (powerful lobbyist behind the scenes of the United Nations). Ordo Iuris who is also an ally of ADF International, the Alliance Defending Freedom which supports opponents of sexual and reproductive rights around the world, and which in 2017 obtained the “special advisory status” at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
How was Ordo Iuris born?
It’s an Institute able to develop complex legislative packages to be submitted to the Parliament, with members who manage being infiltrated the decision-making contexts as closely linked to the Law and Justice Party (PIS) to the government since 2015. One example is Aleksander Stêpkowski: lawyer, lecturer at the University of Warsaw, co-founder and first president of the Ordo Iuris Institute, was Undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 2015 and 2016. Then he was appointed Supreme Court Judge in 2019, First Supreme Court President in 2020 and Supreme Court Spokesman in the same year.
Ordo Iuris is therefore not only an institution belonging to Agenda Europe but is a powerful organization of the ultra-right Catholic working with a wide array of similar organizations in the world. It has ramifications in Estonia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Croatia and the Netherlands, and it is expanding in the rest of Europe
As shown by the financial transactions to Lithuania and Slovakia of about 100,000 euros in a year. Founded in 2013 by the Father Piotr Skarga with an initial funding of 50,000 Polish zlotys (£10,000), Ordo Iuris actually has its baptism in Brazil under the protective wing of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP): a transnational network of ultraconservatives founded in 1960 by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, which brings together 40 Catholic organizations. For years it has collaborated with the extreme right, starting from the regimes of Latin America.
The Tradition, Family and Property
“The TFP is not a normal non-governmental organization but is a political engine that idealizes a medieval lifestyle, and aspires to inflict its ideology on everyone else,” says Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Founded as an ultra-Catholic movement characterized by the fusion of social conservatism and economic hyper-liberalism, the TFP (which has as its symbol the golden lion rampant as Ordo Iuris) started from Latin America to the conquest of Europe at the end of the 90s after the death of its founder. It became quickly one of the most active networks against the sexual and reproductive rights of women and against LGBTQI people.
The network also includes the Croatian Vigilare and the SPTK Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition in Estonia. In the 80s, the TFP was accused of being involved in the attack on Pope John Paul II: accusations that were rejected, although in 1985 the Brazilian bishops describe it dangerous for its “esoteric character” and for “fanaticism”. After de Oliviera’s death in 1995, the group seems to have split into two: the one critical of Pope Francis, who kept the name of TFP, while the other, Heralds of the Gospel (Heralds), were investigated by the Vatican in 2017 for alleged practices of worship and exorcism.
But where do they get the money?
Billionaires, aristocrats and oligarchs finance these ultra-conservative right-wing organizations. As for the “Restoring Natural Order: an Agenda for Europe”, which brings everyone together, it is difficult to know where the money comes from because many of their donors want to remain anonymous.
On the other hand, Open Democracy showed that much of the money comes from the Christian right-wing in the United States: billionaires very close to the Republican Party
There are rich families setting up foundations in the United States, which give money to NGOs investing in Europe by collaborating with European organizations. Or they set up their own offices in Europe, such as the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) and the Alliance for the Defence of Freedom (ADF), both based in Brussels. But we know that at the first meeting in London they were there: Vincente Segu, head of the Mexican organization Incluyendo Mexico with strong relations with the billionaire Patrick Slim Domit (son of Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world); Archduke Imre and his wife, Archduchess Kathleen of the Habsburg-Lorraine family; Oliver Hylton former asset manager of Sir Michel Hintze, Conservative Party financier in the UK.
Among the most important are Vladimir Yakunin, with the Istoki foundation that finances the anti-abortion movement Sanctity of Motherhood Program. But many of these European organizations also receive public funding
It was El País who showed how some Spanish organizations received funds directly from the Spanish state or autonomous regions, for the so-called Crisis pregnancy counseling (CPC). This happens regularly in Poland, where the government finances anti-gender and anti-human rights organizations, but also in Italy with the funding of Regions or Municipalities to pro-life associations.