Can Viktor Orbán’s ‘fight club’ take on the EU?
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.”
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
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.
Good on him
We might shortly have a vacancy in this country
Hungary is a multiply defeated nation, whose ability to control its own fate has ended 6 centuries ago and ever since it has been forced to tie its cart to various larger powers. It became even more acute in 1920, or thereabouts, when the Western powers broke it into multiple pieces and “gave” 2/3 of its territory to other countries, as if it had been theirs to give. Its was Hitler who promised to give those territories back, not Churchill so Hungary went with Hitler in WW2. The end result was Soviet occupation for 50 years. It was at the end of that occupation when Orban entered politics.
Obviously Hungary remains in no position to control its own fate, and, after 100 years of losing the territories, there are no more grandiose plans to get any of them back, except in the heads of a few radicals. So this is my thinking: “Hungary first” (channeling Trump) is the next best ideology he could come up with in order to generate some nationalistic enthusiasm to keep himself in power. Clearly, the Hungarians are buying it.
Its is a balancing at between 2 great regional powers, which Hungary had tried before, unsuccessfully though. We’ll see how it works this time. The wokism prevalent in EU officialdom makes his job a bit easier, though.
In any case he’s playing on a sticky wicket now, having alienated his Visegrad allies over the war in Ukraine – his balance between Putin and the EU largely a method to somehow keep the spigot of both Euros and Rubles flowing – making any chance his reforms will see any traction increasingly unlikely.
I have less sympathy for Hungary than for some of the earlier EU members, as it was well aware of what the EU stood for by the time it joined. It seems to me that the direction of travel was clearly sign-posted; it should not have joined if it didn’t want to go to that destination. Perhaps the sight of clouds of Euros temporarily blinded it.
Exactly. I’ve no love for the EU and voted to leave it, however I can understand their frustration with Hungary. They seem to want all the benefits of being part of the bloc such as the billions of Euros in development project, yet completely ignore any of the obligations that come with being part of a group. If Orban was serious in his convictions then he would organise a referendum the same as the UK did, however we all know that won’t be the case. He’s also alienated his traditional allies within the EU such as the Poles with his actions regarding the Ukraine invasion so he needs to tread very carefully
I think you have Hungary about right, but err in thinking other members are any different, except perhaps in the degree of honesty; while some, mainly those on the payroll, sometimes talk as if it is a grand project for the benefit of the EU state, others calculate the benefit, or manoeuvre to increase it.
Our civil servants were less successful in this, although they enjoyed the ride.
Exactly the same could be said of Britain – the EEC / EU was always an overtly political project. At the very least there was a huge degree of dissembling on the issues of reduced democratic scrutiny by the pro EEC establishment at the time of Britain’s entry.
I envision some type of underhanded politically orchestrated regime change in Hungary’s future.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe