After Orban’s re-election, populist Hungary set to be a thorn in EU’s side

While Orban is critical of the European Union, nobody expects him to seek to leave the union.
Sunday 15/04/2018
Barbed wire politics.  Hungarian Prime  Minister Viktor Orban waves during the final electoral rally of his Fidesz party in Szekesfehervar,  on April 6.     (AP)
Barbed wire politics. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban waves during the final electoral rally of his Fidesz party in Szekesfehervar, on April 6. (AP)

LONDON - Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban secured a historic fourth term after his anti-immigration, anti-Islam, right-wing populist Fidesz party secured a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections.

Fidesz won 133 seats in Hungary’s 199-member parliament, having run a campaign almost exclusively based on the issue of migration and the idea of defending “Christian” Hungary from refugees and migrants.

Orban sought to portray the issue of immigration as an existential threat to Hungary and the rest of Europe. It is a message that galvanised supporters and raised already high fears about the normalisation of far-right anti-Islamic discourse across Europe.

In his annual state of the union speech in February, Orban warned that the European Union had “opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and… Islamic expansion.”

“We are those who think that Europe’s last hope is Christianity… If all this continues, in the big cities of Europe there will be a Muslim majority,” he said.

Hungary has a small Muslim population, estimated at just 40,000 out of a population of 10 million. However, the country’s southern border marks an external Schengen border zone. At the height of the refugee crisis, many asylum seekers sought entry into the European Union’s Schengen zone via Hungary.

At an election rally in March, Orban turned his ire on the European Union. “Africa wants to kick down our door and Brussels is not defending us. Europe is under invasion already and they are watching with their hands in the air,” he told a cheering crowd.

Hungary built a fence along its southern border with Serbia and Croatia in 2015 to try to stop illegal migration. While the fence has been controversial in the European Union, it has been popular with supporters.

Fidesz’s April 8 election victory, with such a commanding parliamentary majority, sets the stage for Orban to take the offensive domestically and in Hungary’s relations with the European Union.

“Hungary’s parliamentary elections results will likely provide robust validation for the nationalist, populist and xenophobic ideology espoused by Prime Minister Viktor Orban,” Phoenix Kalen, a London-based analyst at Societe Generale, was quoted as saying on portfolio.hu, a Hungarian financial website.

Far-right leaders across Europe congratulated Orban following his election victory, hoping that it augurs well for far-right politics in forthcoming European elections.

“The inversion of values and mass immigration promoted by the EU have once again been rejected,” said France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen. “Nationalist parties could be a majority in Europe at the next European Parliament elections in 2019.”

The far-right Alternative for Germany party tweeted that Orban’s re-election was “a bad day for the EU but a good day for Europe.”

The European Union reacted cautiously to Orban’s re-election. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker issued a statement stressing the importance of all members “defending” the values of the European Union, “with no exception.”

European Council President Donald Tusk also implicitly warned Orban to walk the line in his official statement of congratulation. “I count on you to play a constructive role in maintaining our unity in the EU,” Tusk said.

It is not clear that Orban, with political capital to spend after his election victory, will toe the EU line. Orban had said that Hungary would not accept the European Union’s compulsory redistribution of migrants and indicated that he wants the European Union to change the way it distributes funds.

“The results may include continuing strains in Hungary’s relationship with the EU, which has thus far been powerless to stem Hungary’s slide into autocracy,” Kalen acknowledged on portfolio.hu.

While Orban is critical of the European Union, nobody expects him to seek to leave the union, particularly given that Hungary is reliant on EU funds.

“There is a big, big rightward move as a result of these elections in Hungary,” said the United Kingdom’s leading anti-EU politician Nigel Farage in comments made on his LBC radio show.

“It used to be said that I was the European Union’s biggest nightmare, campaigning for Britain to leave. I think Viktor Orban is going to be an even bigger nightmare because he doesn’t even intend to leave. He intends to be there to keep saying no and to cause absolute chaos,” he added.

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