by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 9
August 2022
Analysis
07:00

Viktor Orbán threatens EU with ‘Huxit’

The leader has warned that funding will decide his country's future
by William Nattrass
Will this man pull his country out of the EU? Credit: Getty

The ideological chasm between Viktor Orbán and the EU keeps growing wider, but a possible ‘Huxit’ has long been a fantasy. Indeed, the prospect of leaving the EU would be unpopular with a government which enjoys the economic benefits of EU membership and with an opposition that fears adding fuel to the fire of burgeoning euroscepticism. But that might be about to change. 

Bizarrely, calls for a plebiscite relating to EU membership are now being made by pro-EU politicians. Members of Hungary’s once united but now very-much-divided opposition have launched a referendum initiative intended as a pre-emptive strike to stop any imagined future EU departure attempts by Orbán. 

Their referendum proposal got off to a shambolic start. First, an MEP from the Hungarian Socialist Party announced that he would submit a referendum question asking whether Hungarians “agree with parliament creating a law on Hungary’s commitment to EU membership”. The fuzzy question quickly drew derision, including from opposition leaders. But later, the leader of Jobbik — a now-sanitised, formerly extreme-Right party — submitted a more sensible proposal: a referendum on removing the Hungarian parliament’s current theoretical ability to take the country out of the EU without a referendum. 

It’s unlikely that Jobbik’s proposal will actually go to a public vote; Orbán’s Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament and no discernible interest in the idea. What’s more, horrified reactions from other opposition parties have been telling. Conscious of the Brexit referendum’s polarising effect on perceptions of the EU, they fear that forcing voters to take sides — even on such a pre-emptive question — would only boost the eurosceptic cause, opening a “Pandora’s Box” on whether Hungary should stay in the EU. 

The opposition hates Orbán, but many hate the idea of ‘Huxit’ even more. They will therefore not wish to upset the status quo in which Orbán brushes all questions about ‘Huxit’ aside by insisting that he sees Hungary’s future in a reformed, less domineering version of the EU. Forcing him to participate in any kind of referendum would make this nuanced stance harder to sustain.   

Yet whatever the outcome of the referendum proposal, the EU itself is slowly but surely forcing Hungary’s hand. Brussels continues to withhold pandemic recovery funds from Budapest and has triggered a mechanism for withholding budget payouts, despite receiving proposals which the Hungarian government claims should resolve ‘rule of law’ concerns. 

The proposals are unlikely to be enough: reading between the lines of statements by EU leaders, it’s clear that the funding blockages are mostly political, not legal. The minister for the EU in the current Czech EU presidency last week said a controversial recent speech by Orbán about “race-mixing” will have “political consequences” and “accelerate” the bloc’s rule of law proceedings.

Orbán himself suggests that funding issues will ultimately decide Hungary’s EU future, claiming that by around 2030 Hungary will become a net contributor to the EU budget and that “he who pays the piper calls the tunes.” The message is clear: a fundamental re-evaluation of negative Hungarian-EU relations will become unavoidable once the country starts paying more into the bloc than it gets out. The outcome of such a shift is for now uncertain. It could spell the end of the Orbán regime, or it might put Hungary on the road out of the EU, with or without a referendum.  

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Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago

It is demonstrably true that the EU use monetary threats to increase compliance to their orthodoxy from smaller countries (e.g. Greece)
Eventually the short-term economic costs of leaving (especially for Euro countries) become great enough that referendums on leaving become almost pointless.
Thankfully the U.K. escaped the “slippery slope to colonisation” before it was too late.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Barton
Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Didn’t the ECB close one of Cyprus’s main banks in order to force Cyprus to accept the draconian terms of their bailout deal?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

Yes – They effectively took control of the whole of the Cyprus banking system

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Barton
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

It’s also demonstrably true that the slab-featured thug is Putin’s organ grinder’s monkey. The EU is too tolerant. They should ages ago have found a way to kick out this lout and his regressive country.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Absolutely agree, and this comes from someone who doesn’t generally support the EU.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Maybe the EU should kick out Germany too – for providing NordStream weapons to Putin.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Barton
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

It beggars belief that Hungary, and the same applies to Ireland and the UK, that politicians simply cannot see that the eternal economic and financial rainbow lies in leaving the EU and becoming a Swiss cum Liechtenstinian tax haven. Massive investment, savings inflow, companies flocking to domicile, individuals queuing up to become citizens, and exponential new multi currency revenues into HM Treasury in tsunami form….

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
1 month ago

Mmm, maybe worth considering what you wish for. You are arguing for an economic system that favours making money with money over earning from work. A tax and regulation system in favour of investing rather than earning from work is the current western mainstream political and tax preference. This seems a logic way of assuring endless growth but does it provide valuable and valued working lives for the population as a whole, or does it achieve this mainly for the clever few…..

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

Ah the EU and Orban – a delicious schadenfreudic(?) entertainment.
How they deserve each other.