Pressure grows to cancel far-right 'NatCons' fundraiser in Brussels next week

From Orbán to Farage and Zemmour, the populist far-right will congregate at Edificio's Concert Noble in Brussels next week – but antifascist movements are planning to mobilise.

Pressure grows to cancel far-right 'NatCons' fundraiser in Brussels next week
Nigel Farage, Suella Braverman and Viktor Orbán are the keynote speakers for the National Conservative Conference in Brussels. Credit: Belga

What brings Nigel Farage and Suella Braverman, accompanied by Viktor Orbán, back to Brussels?

Notorious far-right figures are descending on the Belgian capital on 16-17 April for "The National Conservatism Conference: Preserving the Nation-State in Europe" – a European version of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the US.

The event will bring together politicians, journalists, academics, religious figures, members of the European nobility and shady think tankers –all affiliated with the populist far-right –  at the Concert Noble venue in Brussels to hear inflammatory speeches on topics such as migration, the EU, climate change and LGBTQ+ rights.

With important national and European elections on the horizon, protests against the conference – widely seen as a fundraiser for the far-right – are growing. First held in 2019, the annual event has taken place in major cities around the world. Previous attendees have included Georgia Meloni and Marion Maréchal Le Pen.

While this year's keynote speakers are Eric Zemmour, Farage, Braverman and Orbán, the conference will also feature speeches by politicians from Belgium's Vlaams Belang, Spain's Vox, Poland's Law & Justice and France's National Rally – standard bearers of Europe's populist far-right.

The National Conservative movement is, simply put, an expression of the contemporary far-right, much like Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, but it disguises itself as traditional conservatism as a way of appealing to the mainstream. The movement is finding a new life on social media, aided by inflammatory posts against immigration and liberal values (often aided by bots) which are designed to shock and reach as many eyeballs as possible.

In reality, the far-right movement covertly harbours a desire for "patriotism" (read: nationalism) and "tradition". It wants Europe to return to being a collection of nation-states competing with one another, rather than working together.

The nature of the conference as a far-right fundraiser has the Belgian Human Rights League (LDH) and anti-fascist organisations protesting against the company which owns the building, Edificio, branding them "hypocritical".

Concert Noble, owned by Edificio. Credit: Visit Brussels

"We deeply regret that Edificio – which operates the Concert Noble where the conference is supposed to take place – tolerates such an event on their premises," Camille, an activist at the Belgian Antifascist Coordination (CAB) told The Brussels Times. "They claim to abide by the values of 'respect and sustainability' and 'making this precious cultural heritage accessible to the public,' while also receiving more than €100,000 in public money. Then they allow a dictator like Viktor Orbán to gain influence."

Both the LDH and CAB activists stress that the cordon sanitaire should apply when it comes to giving political figures a platform at the heart of the European quarter of Belgium.

Edificio has not responded to The Brussels Times' request for comment but CAB plans to scale up protests if the organisation "does not come to its senses". This week, activists called on people to tag Edificio on social media and write them an email; over 100 emails have been sent so far.

"We have not received a response and plan to write to the board, warning that they will be individually named to highlight their personal responsibility. If they still refuse to cancel the event, we'll call for a protest in front of Concert Noble on 16 April," Camille warned.

Who's behind the conference?

The National Conservative Conference also took place at Concert Noble in 2022; last year's edition was held in London.

While the event is presented as promoting ordinary, common sense conservatism, the most expensive tickets sell for €20,000 (for which you get a table with 10 "VIP" seats). There are also  €10,000 and €5,000 options. One of the sponsors of the event, the Edmund Burke Foundation, offers membership to their organisation and a ticket to the event for only €1,000; or one can choose to sponsor the event for €2,000.

Based in Washington DC, the Edmund Burke Foundation defines itself as a "public affairs institute founded in January 2019 to strengthen the principles of national conservatism in Western and other democratic countries." The foundation is headed by Yoram Hazony – a former aide of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and author of the renowned far-right paper "The Virtue of Nationalism".

One of the co-sponsors of the conference is Rafi Eis, Executive Director of the Israeli neo-conservative Herzl Institute, which is also headed by Hazony. The institute has usurped the named of Theodor Herzl, who was a liberal democrat.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with Yoram Hazony in Budapest in 2019. Credit: Official homepage of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

In a post promoting the conference, the Herzl Institute says that society is being "challenged by a progressive, cultural neo-Marxism making a bid to capture leading institutions on both sides of the Atlantic." It is important to note that "cultural marxism" is a contemporary revival of the Nazi propaganda term "Cultural Bolshevism".

The institute, writing from its headquarters in Jerusalem, also claims that "the European Union usurps the authority of its sovereign member states” and “uses the power of the purse” to exact political and ideological compliance” on topics such as energy security, social policy, and immigration.

Another co-sponsor is the Brussels branch of a private Hungarian college MCC, which has received significant funding from Orbán's government to forward its interests in the Belgian capital. It is led by Hungarian national Frank Furedi (also one of the speakers), who as a student in the UK led the Revolutionary Communist Party but has since swapped Fidel for Fidesz.

Guests of honour

The drivers of this new movement are rooted in Washington, Brussels, Tel Aviv and Budapest, but who are the guests?

Apparently discontent with how UK-EU relations have panned out, Brexit cheerleader Nigel Farage returns to Brussels alongside Suella Braverman, another keynote speaker and champion of the British far-right. At last year’s conference in London Braverman proclaimed that immigration threatened the UK's "national character" (despite being the daughter of immigrants) and expressed opposition to what she referred to as "radical gender ideology".

Among the less prominent figures is Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis – a German noblewoman, Catholic activist, and socialite. If the name sounds familiar that’s because she is a descendant of the German noble family that once resided where Brussels’s Tour and Taxis lies today (and from where it gets its name).

Also from Germany, the Catholic Cardinal Gerhard Müller who recently said "Jesus would go to prison because he spoke out the truth about the marriage between a man and a woman." He has spearheaded criticism of Pope Francis' inclusive messaging in the Catholic Church.

Many are right-wing commentators, such as the UK columnist for The Times Melanie Phillips, who argued in 2013 that there is "no evidence" for climate change and recently referred to the BBC as the "Hamas Broadcasting Corporation", saying it "has become the most powerful disseminator of murderous disinformation in the world."

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry pictured during a speech at Concert Noble in Brussels, Tuesday 04 October 2016. Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Others on the line-up use their academic credentials to normalise far-right discourse. For instance Matthew Goodwin, a prominent Brexit-backer and British academic at the University of Kent who argued that "Britain is run by a ‘woke’ new elite" despite having worked as an advisor for the governing Conservative Party.

Also due to speak is Polish academic Monika Gabriela Bartoszewicz, who recently tweeted that "multiculturalism requires a police state" and has called her appearance alongside Braverman, Farage and Orbán as a "lifetime achievement unlocked".

A new far-right conservatism?

The conference will serve as a platform for a new conservative direction that displaces market liberalism (known as neoliberal or neoconservative). According to its statement of principles, "NatCons" believe in private property and free enterprise, but warn that the market "cannot be absolute".

It stands against "crony capitalism" (defined by organisers as "the selective promotion of corporate profit-making by organs of state power, [which] should be energetically exposed and opposed"). The same accusation is often levelled at the conference’s keynote speaker, Viktor Orbán.

But although the conference promotes a unified vision of transnational-nationalism, there is an inherent paradox in defending national identity whilst also defining a multi-national movement. A return to a survival of the fittest as the modus operandi in Europe for nation-states, could only hasten the return of conflict. 

In the lead up to the conference, the Belgian League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Belgian Antifascist Coordination (CAB) are hopeful that the venue will pull the event, under sufficient pressure on the building's board members. One such member, Jean-Marc Delporte, is believed to have links to Belgium's French-speaking Socialist Party (PS). CAB has contacted the party to take a position.

"Within the limits of the law, freedom of expression applies to everyone. But this does not oblige anyone to welcome the far-right into their homes,” the Belgian League of Human Rights stated. "All the more so after it has come to power in several European countries. The LDH calls on Edificio to cancel this event: there is still time to block it."

Update: On Friday afternoon, Edificio issued a press release announcing that "the event scheduled for 16 and 17 April at the Concert Noble has been cancelled."

Related News

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.