Fri, 21 June 2024

Lahodynsky on Orban “blackmail” of EU

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Guest commentary in Die Presse, Vienna, Dec 13, 2023 by AEJ hon AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky

Hungary’s veto will also benefit Putin

Why the EU must not dance to Viktor Orbán’s tune

At their summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday, the EU heads of state and government are to decide on the opening of accession negotiations with Ukraine and the continuation of financial and defence aid for the country invaded by Russia’s army.

However, Hungary’s head of government, Viktor Orbán, is threatening to veto the decision. What’s more, he sent a delegation to Republican politicians in the USA at the beginning of this week in order to mobilise support against the continuation of arms deliveries and financial aid to Ukraine.

Orban (right) with future “stone guest” at EU summits

The inventor of “illiberal democracy” not only established close contacts with Vladimir Putin, but also with China’s head of state, Xi Jinping, and the Turkish ruler, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – without any consultation with EU partners. At the meeting in Brussels, Orbán will use the veto club to try and force the payment of around 23bn €  in EU funding for the next five years, which has been frozen due to allegations of corruption and the curbing of the judiciary and media.

Just before the summit, the EU Commission decided to release 10bn € euros to Hungary because Budapest had fulfilled the requirements for judicial reform. It remains to be seen whether this “ransom” – as the Brussels magazine Politico termed it – will be enough to dissuade Orbán from his veto threats.

As he did a few years ago, the Hungarian leader has covered the country with posters vilifying EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen together with the son of his favourite opponent, George Soros. “We will not dance to their tune”, Hungarians can read.

“Huxit” is not an option

The government’s constant attacks against the EU are already having an impact: The number of EU sceptics has risen in Hungary; according to a survey by the US opinion research institute Pew Research Center, 39 % of Hungarians have a negative attitude towards the EU, which is eight % higher than the EU average. However, experts do not see Hungary’s exit from the EU as an option; Hungary’s economy is too closely intertwined with the EU as a whole.

Orbán is also using the EU as an enemy to distract attention from his own mistakes. At 25.8 %, Hungary is currently experiencing the worst inflation anywhere in the EU. Food prices have even doubled. This is because Orbán’s decision to cap eight basic foodstuffs and the special tax on foreign supermarkets – together with a high VAT rate – has driven prices even higher.

However, with the end of the right-wing nationalist PiS government in Poland, Orbán has now lost an important ally in the EU. Together they long blocked punitive measures by the EU for violating fundamental values until the EU was able to push through a rule of law mechanism. The EU must take tougher action than it has so far against blackmail by its populists. Otherwise, it will also lose all credibility vis-à-vis the candidate countries from which the rule of law or media freedom are demanded.

From July 2024 at the latest, when Hungary takes over the EU Council Presidency, we can forget about a common EU foreign and security policy. Putin will probably sit at the table of the 27 EU heads of government as a silent “stone guest”.

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