The Hungarian PM's new cabinet is setting its sights on the bloc
After swearing his prime ministerial oath in the Hungarian parliament on Monday, Viktor Orbán gave a speech squarely aimed at the EU.
“The only question is this: what are we doing in the European Union?” he asked. “Every day, Brussels abuses its power and tries to impose on us all manner of things that are bad for us and alien to us.”
Hungary is fighting back against the EU’s new power to withhold budget funds from member states, which Budapest claims is actually being used to pressure Hungary into dropping controversial policies, such as its limitation of LGBT+ content in public life.
After winning a landslide election victory on the back of his opposition to pressure from Brussels, Orbán has now come out swinging, labelling Hungary’s new cabinet his “Fight Club” on Facebook.
The name stands for Orbán’s unashamed determination to put Hungarian national interests above all else. He is now single-handedly scuppering the EU’s plans for a sweeping oil embargo on Russia because he refuses to make Hungarians pay the price of war in Ukraine; speaking on national radio, he warned that “the interests of America, Germany, or any other European country,” in the war “might run contrary to Hungarian interests.”
Reflecting this emphasis on domestic prosperity, Orbán has stacked his new cabinet with economists, under a new structure which sees five of the fourteen ministries dealing primarily with economic considerations. Tibor Navracsics, the new Minister for Regional Development and Utilisation of EU Funds, has provoked particular interest: a former EU commissioner, he’s been tipped as a potential deal-breaker with Brussels.
The key figures remain unchanged, though, with Péter Szijjártó retaining his place as Foreign Minister and Judit Varga (the only woman in the cabinet) staying on as Minister of Justice. Varga has developed a reputation for her combative stance towards the EU: leading Hungary’s legal response to the EU’s threat to withhold funds, she’s a powerful spokesperson for national sovereignty who clearly has an appetite to fight Brussels every step of the way.
This may be needed, as the pressure to bend to the EU’s will on domestic issues is set to become greater than ever. Hungary’s long-time ally Poland is reported to have unlocked EU money by agreeing to Brussels’ demands for the reform of its judiciary.
Does this new isolation mean “Huxit” could be on the agenda in Orbán’s next term? Probably not. Instead, Orbán is going to push for reform. He suggested the European Parliament should consist of delegates from national parliaments instead of separately elected MEPs. The idea fell on deaf ears, and the European Parliament has now come up with an opposite proposal for greater integration of the electoral system, resulting in “a single European election… as opposed to 27 separate national elections.”
Orbán is also trying to spearhead the creation of a new Right-wing European Parliament alliance. But Hungarian government spokesperson ZoltánKovács told me “the ruling (progressive) narrative is so strong and so biased that re-adjusting it is not an easy task,” and that part of the problem is that “the political Left are zealots. Conservative parties just don’t work like this.”
There is another proposal for European reform on the table, with Emmanuel Macron advocating the creation of a wider “European community” based on shared political, security and social aims. But far from a solution to Hungary’s gripes, this seems to be the exact opposite of Orbán’s call for a trade bloc leaving states to formulate their own political and social priorities.
To his own question about what Hungary is doing in the EU, Orbán said “we seek our dreams. We seek a community of free and equal nations, we seek a homeland of homelands, a democracy of democracies.” The EU won’t like it, but his government can be expected to continue fighting for its vision of the bloc over the next four years.