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BUDAPEST — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will remain at the EU’s top table — which means more clashes over the bloc’s core values and more opposition to a hard line on Moscow.
The right-wing populist leader won a fourth consecutive election on Sunday, with his ruling Fidesz party set to take two-thirds of the seats in Hungary’s parliament.
While Orbán was widely expected to win – not least because of his firm grip on the media, which his critics say is part of a broader pattern of undermining democratic norms – the magnitude of his victory shocked his opponents, who had banded together to challenge him.
In the national list elections, about 53 percent of Hungarian voters opted for Fidesz, while about 35 percent opted for a diverse six-party opposition alliance.
The election campaign was changed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hungary’s neighbor. Orbán was not harmed in the election by cultivating a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and instead appears to have benefited by portraying himself as a guarantor of Hungary’s peace and stability that would ensure that the country did not was drawn into the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has attacked Orbán for taking a softer line towards Moscow than other EU leaders. While Hungary – a member of both the EU and NATO – has condemned the Russian invasion and backed EU sanctions against Moscow, it has opposed a ban on Russian energy imports and refused to bilaterally arms Kyiv.
Orbán’s victory means he is likely to take a similar stance as EU leaders debate whether to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow, especially amid reports of massacres and rapes of civilians in Ukrainian cities previously reported by Russian troops were occupied.
In an exceptional moment of his victory speech On Sunday evening, Orbán mentioned the Ukrainian president as one of the opponents his party faced in the elections – along with many of his usual targets, such as “the left wing at home”, “the international left wing”, “Brussels bureaucrats”. ‘ and Hungarian-American financier George Soros.
“We may never have looked so good as we do tonight,” Orbán told his supporters in Budapest, declaring that his party had “won such a victory that you can see it from the moon – but certainly from Brussels”.
But that victory came amid significant concerns from democracy experts and opposition politicians that electoral conditions in Hungary are wildly unequal: Orbán’s party designed the current electoral system and controls – directly and indirectly – much of the media landscape.
Such concerns about a democratic backsliding in Hungary will once again come to the fore for the EU institutions, which have been struggling for years to counter the increasingly autocratic tendencies of the government in Budapest.
The European Parliament’s decision in 2018 to launch the bloc’s Article 7 no-confidence procedure — a step taken when the EU’s fundamental values are seen as threatened — did little to pressure Hungary to reverse its course.
And while the EU has so far withheld money destined for Hungary from the bloc’s coronavirus recovery fund, Budapest has faced few concrete consequences for undermining democratic norms.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the European Commission was expected to launch a new mechanism to cut budgetary allocations to Hungary over rule of law concerns. But the commission held back, partly because of the election. Now calls to Brussels will increase.
Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP who has been a vocal critic of the Orbán government, said there will be “a long list of things that were unfair” in the Hungarian elections and that he continues to “put pressure” will exercise. the European Commission to cut funding.
Brussels is now likely to clash with the Orbán government again over issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, judicial independence, migration and media freedom – although a number of anti-LGBTQ+ issues put to a referendum parallel to the elections failed to vote assumed the required voter turnout was not achieved.
At the same time, the Hungarian leader’s electoral success could strengthen his ambitions to project influence abroad.
As one of Europe’s longest-serving politicians, Orbán tends to punch above his weight in European politics.
He has set himself the goal of creating an alliance of nationalist and far-right forces in Europe – and befriending figures such as France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini.
The prime minister has also worked to forge ties with pro-Trump Conservatives across the Atlantic, cultivating support from US media figures such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
And he has endeavored to project Hungarian influence across Central and Eastern Europe, to consolidate support among Hungarian speakers in surrounding countries, and to invest in ties in the Western Balkans. (Orbán’s close ally, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, also drove for re-election on Sunday.)
In his speech, Orbán thanked Fidesz’s allies abroad. “It’s not just our win,” he told fans. “The whole world,” he said, can see that Christian democratic and conservative politics “is not the past, but the future.”
While the war in Ukraine has somewhat upset his ambitions – to drive a wedge between Budapest and its close allies in Warsaw – the prime minister is likely to try again to raise his international profile.
Still, Orbán’s win will fuel questions about the future of the Visegrád foursome, a club made up of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic whose unity has come under increasing strain in recent weeks. Other members of the group are harder on Russia than Orbán.
“We must respect democratic elections in Hungary,” said Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party. But he noted the differences within the Visegrád foursome to Ukraine and described working within the group as “very difficult”.
It would be “a shame,” he said, if Orbán were “more and more” isolated in the European Union.
https://www.politico.eu/article/orban-win-sets-stage-for-more-eu-battles-on-democracy-and-russia/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Orbán's victory sets the stage for more EU struggles over democracy and Russia - POLITICO