Orban's EU presidency begins with controversy in Brussels

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, has ignited concerns in Brussels with his efforts to unite far-right, anti-EU parties and his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as Hungary takes over the EU presidency for six months starting July 1.

Publication: 08.07.2024 - 12:30
Orban's EU presidency begins with controversy in Brussels
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Long at odds with Brussels over democratic principles and various EU policies, including those concerning Ukraine, Hungary’s presidency has commenced under the slogan “Make Europe Great Again,” echoing former U.S. President Donald Trump’s famous campaign slogan. Hungary has outlined its priorities, including a farmer-focused agricultural policy, a coherent and merit-based expansion policy, addressing demographic challenges, preventing illegal migration, strengthening European defense policy, shaping the future of cohesion policy among member states, and adopting a New European Competitiveness Agreement.

Concerns Over Aid to Ukraine

During Hungary’s six-month presidency, there are concerns that aid to Ukraine and the progress of its EU membership negotiations might slow down. Additionally, Hungary might obstruct the EU’s priorities on issues like migration and climate change.

While Hungarian officials have emphasized their intention to work cooperatively and constructively with all EU members and institutions, Orban’s moves to unite the far-right in the European Parliament (EP) and his visit to Russia during the first week of the presidency have sparked strong reactions within the EU.

Uniting Anti-EU Parties

Hungary’s presidency comes at a time when the far-right has strengthened in the EP following recent elections, and the new EU administration has yet to be established. Alliances forming among far-right parties are shifting the balance of power against centrist parties, potentially enhancing Orban’s influence.

Orban has spearheaded the "Patriots of Europe" alliance, formed by representatives of the far-right and anti-EU Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz), and the Czech Republic’s ANO party, which met on June 30. This alliance aims to consolidate right-wing and far-right parties, receiving support from other far-right groups like Identity and Democracy (ID) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

With the addition of Spain’s Vox, Portugal’s Chega, the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV), and Belgium’s Flemish Interest (VB), the Patriots of Europe alliance has met the requirement of having members from at least seven countries to form a political group in the EP. Orban’s goal is to make this alliance the third-largest group in the EP, extending his influence beyond the EU Council to the legislative body.

Controversial Russia Visit

Orban’s presidency coincides with a controversial visit to Russia, following Ukraine’s visit. This move has drawn surprise and criticism within the EU. Despite the strained EU-Russia relations since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent war in Ukraine, Orban has maintained ties with Russia.

Orban’s visit to Moscow, which took place soon after his visit to Kyiv, was reportedly organized secretly, angering many within the EU and NATO. However, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg indicated that NATO’s top leaders were aware of the visit.

A Hungarian official, speaking to The Guardian, clarified that Orban’s visit to Moscow was planned before the visit to Ukraine, not as a last-minute arrangement. During his meeting with Putin, Orban discussed the European security architecture and proposed initiating peace negotiations to achieve a ceasefire and end the war in Ukraine.

Orban described his presidency as a peace mission, explaining that his visits to both Ukraine and Russia are part of this mission and will continue.