Viktor Orbán: EU’s Uncertain Future
On April 8, Hungary held its parliamentary elections. This was the second election since the country adopted a new Constitution, which came into force on January 2012. The elections resulted in a victory for the Fidesz-KDNP alliance, preserving its two-thirds majority with Viktor Orbán selected as the country’s Prime Minister for a third successive term. The Party campaigned primarily on issues of immigration and foreign meddling.
Orbán has received significant attention for his party’s anti-immigration policies, Euroscepticism, and advocacy of what he describes as an “illiberal state.” In 2015, more than 400,000 refugees — many fleeing the war in Syria — passed through the country. In response, Hungary built fences along its border with Serbia and Croatia to keep them out. The government adopted a series of measures in its anti-immigration policies, including a 25% tax on groups and organizations that supported refugees. Orbán has also vowed to continue fighting against the European Union (EU) quota on refugees, a plan meant to relocate asylum seekers across Europe.
Orbán’s election also comes at a time where leaders with similar views to the popular right have been brought into the spotlight. Prior to Orbán’s re-election, Italy held its elections in March 2018, with Matteo Salvini and his center-right alliance gaining the plurality of seats in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. Like Orbán, Salvini also opposes illegal immigration in the EU. In October 2017, Austria held its parliamentary elections with the Austrian People’s Party gaining the majority of seats. Similar to the elections in Italy and Hungary, Austria’s elections saw immigration as the prevailing topic.
However, Orbán’s victory has brought major concerns. Civil society organizations and observers worry his party will use its supermajority in the Parliament to silence opponents and tighten their grip on the country. According to Gauri van Gulik, the Europe director at Amnesty International, requiring NGOs to pay taxes to a government that suppresses the rights of immigrants is a nonstarter that would effectively force groups to withdraw from the country.
Another cause for concern came when pro-government magazine “Figyelo” printed the names of more than 200 people it claimed were Soros “mercenaries”. The nickname refers to Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros, who funds the Central European University and Open Society Foundations, proponents of liberal democracy. The names on the list included journalists, university professors, and members of human rights organizations such as Transparency International.
These developments were followed by an election marred by allegations that the ruling party created an unlevel playing field by misappropriating state funds and resources to support its campaign and systematically eliminate independent voices in the media. In recent years, Orbán’s allies have acquired numerous media outlets in what critics say is an attempt to control the narrative. Similarly, many independent outlets are cut off from state resources while facing increasing regulations, forcing them to close.
Hungary’s actions have also caused the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to ask Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to pass sanctions against the Orbán government. In a statement, Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green Party MEP, asked her colleagues to trigger Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which would suspend certain membership rights of Hungary. However, Article 7 requires a unanimous vote from all EU members and since Hungary enjoys close relations with Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — countries whose critics claim are also drifting away from democratic values — the implementation of Article 7 would be unlikely.
The future of human rights groups and free speech under Orbán’s government are at risk. As issues like the ongoing refugee crisis continue, it is likely that government officials and parties with similar policies as Orbán’s could be elected or gain popularity. Regardless of what happens, Hungary’s recent election could potentially foreshadow a populist turn for the European Union.