DeSmog

‘Hard-Right’ NatCon Event Was Organised by Oil Funded Group

The conference featuring Nigel Farage and Suella Braverman descended into chaos as police were called.
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Nigel Farage at the National Conservatism conference in Brussels. Credit: Belga News Agency / Alamy

A gathering of “Europe’s hard-right elite” held in Brussels today was organised by a fossil fuel funded think tank, DeSmog can reveal. 

The National Conservatism (NatCon) conference was mired in controversy after the mayor of Brussels ordered police to shut down the event, leading to a standoff with its organisers. 

The conference was due to be attended by critics of net zero policies and climate science, as well as radical right-wing figures from across Europe. French far-right politician Eric Zemmour was due to attend, alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, widely considered to be a far-right leader, GB News presenter and Reform UK president Nigel Farage, and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman. 

The NatCon Brussels event was sponsored and coordinated by Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), a Hungarian think tank funded by oil and gas money. MCC received more than £1.3 billion in Hungarian state funding in 2020, awarded a 10 percent stake in the country’s oil and gas giant MOL.

The location of the conference had to be moved on two occasions after the Socialist Mayor of Brussels Philippe Close said that the event wasn’t welcome in the city. It eventually went ahead in a venue provided by the events company Claridge, after which police were ordered to shut down the gathering “to guarantee public safety”. 

The event continued while its organisers considered their legal options, allowing Farage and Braverman to make their speeches. 

Farage used his address to encourage other member states to break away from the “anti-democratic” EU, saying: “What has happened here, in this epicentre of globalism, is a new unholy trinity: big politics, big business, and big banks.”

In his speech, live-streamed on GB News, Farage also took aim at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its first climate verdict last week, which found that insufficient action to tackle climate change is a violation of human rights.

The ECHR is “telling us we have no option but to implement net zero policies” Farage said, who highlighted that India’s annual coal production has now hit one billion tonnes. 

Pointing at other countries and their climate failures is a common tactic used by those who oppose action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

MCC’s shares in MOL were gifted by the Hungarian government, which also awarded MCC a 10 percent stake in the pharmaceutical firm Gedeon Richter, plus $462 million in cash and $9 million in property. 

Through Gedeon Richter and MOL, the think tank was handed shares in two of the country’s three most valuable companies.

The New York Times reported in 2022 that MOL announced dividends of $652 million to be distributed among its shareholders, with $65 million going to MCC – comfortably more than its annual budget. 

MCC is chaired by Balázs Orbán, who is the Viktor Orbán’s political director. The think tank’s board also includes Hungary’s Minister of Culture and Innovation, János Csák. According to the investigative outlet Follow The Money, MCC is conservative, nationalist and Eurosceptic, and “plays a key role in spreading the ideology of the Hungarian government”.

Balázs Orbán has said: “It is our goal for Hungary to become an intellectual powerhouse, in which MCC plays a key role.”

The NatCon organising committee also featured sociologist Frank Furedi, the executive director of MCC Brussels. Furedi delivered the 2020 annual lecture at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s leading climate science denial group, on the subject “eco hysteria”. During the lecture, he promoted the fringe claim that politicians and corporations are trying to push civilisation into a “climate lockdown” by reducing individual freedoms. 

Jacob Reynolds, the head of policy at MCC Brussels, chaired one of the NatCon panels, and is described on its website as the conference coordinator.

Viktor Orbán has resisted EU measures to reduce emissions and cut off Russian fossil fuels following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Orbán has opposed an embargo of Russian oil, claiming it would devastate the Hungarian economy, and has only recently announced that the country will not renew its supply agreement with the Russian energy giant Gazprom. The deal will expire in January 2025. 

MOL’s recent profits have been directly attributed to its access to cheap Russian oil and gas, while the firm’s CEO used an MCC event in 2023 to claim that sanctions against Russia had been ineffective. 

NatCon’s conference in London in May 2023 also featured a number of anti-net zero campaigners and those with ties to the oil and gas industry.

NatCon and MCC have been approached for comment. 

UK Attendees

The NatCon Brussels event invited figures from across the UK and EU who have downplayed or dismissed the threat of climate change. 

The panellists included Melanie Phillips, a writer for The Times, who has disputed climate science. In an article for The Times in July 2022, Phillips claimed that “there is no evidence that anything is happening to the world’s climate that lies outside historic fluctuations.”

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.

Farage and Braverman have also repeatedly attacked the legally-binding policy of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. During the 2022 Conservative leadership race, Braverman was one of only two candidates to signal an opposition to net zero, stating that: “in order to deal with the energy crisis we need to suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050.”

Farage is the honorary president and owner of anti-net zero party Reform UK, and has called for a referendum on the UK’s net zero commitment. Farage has also questioned climate science, arguing on GB News in August 2021 that, “What annoys me… is this complete obsession with carbon dioxide almost to the exclusion of everything else, the alarmism that comes with it, based on dodgy predictions and science”.

The IPCC has stated that carbon dioxide “is responsible for most of global warming” since the late 19th century, which has increased the “severity and frequency of weather and climate extremes, like heat waves, heavy rains, and drought”.

Reform UK accepted £135,000 from climate science deniers and fossil fuel interests last year, the warmest on record

Reform ally and academic Matthew Goodwin also participated in the NatCon event, having spoken at Reform’s 2023 conference. 

Influential backbench Conservative MP Miriam Cates was another guest at the NatCon conference. Cates is a supporter of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Tory MPs, which campaigns against the UK’s net zero commitments, and has spoken out against alleged climate “alarmism”.

At the May 2023 NatCon event in London, Cates claimed that “epidemic levels of anxiety and confusion” among young people are being caused by “culture, schools and universities” teaching that “our country is racist, our heroes are villains, [and] humanity is killing the Earth.”

Conservative backbencher Daniel Kawczynski was reprimanded by the party in 2020 for speaking at a NatCon conference in Rome alongside far-right politicians. 

“Daniel Kawczynski has been formally warned that his attendance at this event was not acceptable, particularly in light of the views of some of those in attendance,” the Conservative Party said at the time. Kawczynski spoke alongside Viktor Orbán and other far-right figures from across the EU.

Orbán-Linked Organisers

The Brussels conference was organised with the help of several groups with close ties to the Hungarian government. 

In addition to MCC, the event was co-sponsored by the European Conservative, a right-wing publication based at MCC’s headquarters in Budapest. 

The European Conservative receives direct funding from the Hungarian government via the non-profit Batthyány Lajos Foundation (BLA). 

Orbán has openly expressed his desire for hard-right policies to be exported across the Western world. “This war is a culture war,” he told the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas. “We have to revitalise our churches, our families, our universities and our community institutions.”

The NatCon event was co-sponsored by the Danube Institute, a think tank that has also received funding from the BLA. 

The NatCon Brussels organising committee included John O’Sullivan, Danube’s president, who has argued that climate change is not occurring at the rate held by the world’s leading scientists, and has enthusiastically cited the work of the GWPF. 

While police gathered outside the venue, attendees heard from Dutch MEP Rob Roos, who has in the past claimed that, “Climate policy leads to blackouts and has zero impact on the climate”.

The conference also hosted a panel “in defence of farmers, food, and energy security” featuring several figures who have attacked net zero policies. Farmers’ protests across Europe have been appropriated by right-wing politicians who claim that measures to cut agricultural emissions are devastating rural economies – even though a range of complex factors are motivating the protests. 

Chaired by MCC’s Jacob Reynolds, the panel featured Mike Hume and Ralph Schöllhammer, both of whom have close ties to British publication Spiked, which regularly publishes climate science denial. 

Hume is the former editor of Spiked, and is now a columnist. He has argued that farmers are united by an “opposition to the way that the EU elites are subordinating agricultural policy to their green agenda and net zero obsession, leading to more hardship for farmers and higher food prices for other Europeans.”

Schöllhammer is a regular commentator for Spiked, writing frequently on energy and net zero. He has claimed that “climate extremists” are trying to create a world that would be “devastating for the poorest people on the planet”, and that net zero is a “threat to human civilisation”. 

During the panel, Schöllhammer claimed that left-wing leaders are “at war with modern life: industry, energy, and anything that makes Western life possible.”

The panel also featured Helen O’Sullivan, an Irish livestock farmer who has repeated the false claim that 200,000 cows will be culled in Ireland to meet the EU’s climate targets. 

Government officials in Ireland had discussed “displacing” up to 65,000 cows a year to meet its climate goals, but this was never formally adopted as a policy. 

O’Sullivan used the panel to suggest that current high energy costs are partly the result of shutting down coal and gas plants. However, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Britain was the worst hit country in Western Europe following the invasion because of its over-reliance on gas.

The European Conservative and the Danube Institute have been approached for comment. 

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Sam is DeSmog’s UK Deputy Editor. He was previously the Investigations Editor of Byline Times and an investigative journalist at the BBC. He is the author of two books: Fortress London, and Bullingdon Club Britain.

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