The National Conservative Conference (“NatCon”) in Brussels received heavy media attention across Europe. The controversial summit gathered the European right-wing elite, from politicians and journalists to academics and clergy. Days before it began, the conference was stoking anticipation with the expected presence of France’s Eric Zemmour, Britain’s Nigel Farage and Suella Braverman, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki.

Belgium’s Concert Noble, an august ballroom that hosted a NatCon conference two years ago, was to be the site of this year’s event, but the facility cancelled in response to mounting pressure from Philippe Close, socialist mayor of Brussels, and the left-wing media. Close cited public-safety concerns, as numerous antifascist groups threatened to protest during the conference. The organizers tried to secure an alternative site at the prestigious Sofitel, but the luxury hotel backed out 24 hours before the event. Many registered participants, some traveling from across the Atlantic and paying a handsome price to rub shoulders with conservative elites, feared that the event would be spiked. That scenario was avoided by the generosity and courage of an ethnically Tunisian businessman, Lassaad Ben Yaghlane, who allowed NatCon organizers to rent his concert venue, Claridge, in Chaussée de Louvain, just 12 hours before the event’s scheduled beginning.

The venue cancellations were not the only obstacle that the European Right faced. The mayor of the Brussels municipality of Saint-Josse, Emir Kir, was not satisfied with seeing the conference run out of the Concert Noble. “In Etterbeek, Brussels City, and Saint-Josse, the far Right is not welcome,” he said. Just minutes after most NatCon attendees arrived at Claridge, local authorities sent the police to shut down the conference. The cops were apparently prepared to storm the venue the moment Nigel Farage took the stage. Of course, that move was strongly condemned inside the hall, where a little more than 100 people, including a host of conservative and Eurosceptic MEPs, were gathered. While I sat less than ten feet from the Brexiteer, I could hardly hear him over the clamor from the back of the room.

None of the theatrics affected Farage, who challenged the officers to drag him off the stage. The venue’s entrance was hemmed in by cops, rendering it difficult for politicians such as Zemmour to get in. And while police and organizers never physically clashed, the authorities sought to impede the event in other ways, barring caterers from getting in to feed famished guests, some of whom had traveled in the wee hours from neighboring European cities. And they denied reentry to attendees who wished to step out for fresh air. The conference continued, however, and the Belgian Council of State, the nation’s highest administrative court, put an end to Kir’s efforts to stop it.

The conference and the ruckus surrounding it demonstrated the Right’s commitment to dismantling the European project and its desire for a Europe that respects each nation’s particular history and culture. More importantly, these boisterous 48 hours exhibited European conservatives’ fidelity to freedom of expression, which they believe the Left has put in jeopardy. Most speakers added improvised references to cancel culture and the precarity of free speech in their remarks.

With less than two months before crucial European elections, NatCon Brussels came amid the growing influence of right-wing figures and Eurosceptics across several European nations. If those groups’ opponents wished to use the chaos at NatCon to demonize conservatives, they failed.

First, the event made voters more aware of the European Right and its thought leaders. While NatCon was intended to be small and intimate, the media spotlight drew voters’ attention from around Europe. Even colleagues of mine from France and the United States who don’t follow conservative affairs knew what was happening.

Second, the left-leaning media’s decision to focus on frivolous matters at the conference made them look petty. Yoram Hazony, the architect of NatCon conferences, publicly thanked the Claridge owners for their hospitality. He even told Prime Minister Orban that venue owner Lassaad Ben Yaghlane should run for prime minister someday, given his pacific and diplomatic deportment. Not a single media article mentioned this good-natured and sincere statement—perhaps because it would not fit the Left’s caricature of the bigoted Right. Instead, reporters focused on caterers’ “bizarre little platters” and the conservatives’ supposed obsession with raw appetizers.

Finally, the Left’s efforts to clamp down on conservative voices can only make centrists or classical liberals more attracted to the European Right as they see yet another instance of an erosion of liberal values. Beyond the anecdotal evidence, my qualitative research has made clear to me that the Left’s efforts to suppress opposing views only nudges those in the center rightward.

Emir Kir’s plan backfired, but the story does not end here. If we see an uptick in support for the European Right this summer, the MEPs may have the chaos in Chaussée de Louvain partly to thank.

Photo by SIMON WOHLFAHRT/AFP via Getty Images


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