Can a despot become a loose cannon in the EU? – The Weekly 30

I find it a little odd that the European Union is so surprised by Hungarian Premier Viktor Orbán’s announcement that if funding is linked to rule of law criteria, he is ready to veto the EU’s seven-year budget and the economic recovery plan, thus putting millions of people in grave danger. 

For ten years now, Hungary has been living in a political system where Viktor Orbán single-handedly decides about everything and everybody as he pleases, and Europe has been watching it with a considerable indifference for exactly the same time.

Of course, there have been some major battles between Fidesz and the EU institutions but they have rather been considered as parts of the show so far because the truly scandalous acts have always stayed within the confines of Hungary’s borders until now. The members of the international anti-Orbán camp had their platforms to sulk, complain and loudly reassure their own voters that they were really going to draw the line this time, but Orbán was nonetheless allowed to do whatever he wanted in Hungary because the German politicians and big business always protected him. 

Here’s what their deal was: Orbán supplied cheap labour and huge tax discounts to meet the German industry’s needs in his country but when it came to decisions made at EU level, Fidesz always toed the line after some grumbling. 

In return, they forgave him for the borderline anti-Semitic nationwide smear campaign against George Soros as well as the hatemongering propaganda against the leaders of the European People’s Party or the daily defamation of the EU. Those who had always been urging for some sort of “pacification policy” to handle Orbán apparently failed to realize or simply ignored the fact that Orbán’s train had no brakes on it because Fidesz’ increasingly aggressive hatemongering propaganda always needs refuelling again and again. If Orbán backed down just once, he would lose his credibility with his own fanatic voter base. So it was just a question of time when Orbán was going to knock the European chess table over, too. In addition, criticisms regarding the rule of law and corruption certainly cut deep into Fidesz’ flesh since corruption and the constant stretching or bending of legal-political limits is not just a glitch in the system, it’s the very essence of it. At present, the foundation of Hungary’s political system is loyalty to Orbán, which he repays by hand-feeding EU monies to his people. In return, they always “deliver” the results in each election, typically by blatantly strong-arming the vulnerable provincial population and buying the votes of the Roma held in slavery-like conditions.

Although the CDU-CSU party alliance didn’t seem to be quite bothered about it, the news eventually got to the people of Europe in ten years.

No wonder the European leaders are now under unprecedented political pressure to put an end to the practice of dribbling the taxpayers’ money to eastern despots. However, Orbán has now made a move which, for some mysterious reason, seems to have surprised Europe: as a last-ditch attempt, he promised a veto. European decision makers, welcome to the little Hungarian reality!

 

I believe that each system can grow stronger by learning to handle certain challenges. The European Union now has to answer the following question: under the urging financial pressure, does it yield to the policy of open violence and set its own principles aside? If it does, it will open the path to self-destruction since all value- or solidarity-based policies will immediately become pointless while Europe will be reduced from a democratic welfare community to a battleground of populists fiercely fighting over money, just for the short time until the organization becomes totally insignificant. That’s exactly why I trust that when it comes to the decisive moment, they will refuse to yield under Orbán’s blackmail.

 

The other, more likely scenario is that they simply let go of Orbán’s hand and say that if he doesn’t want to participate in building the European community, then they will go on without him, which also means that Hungary would be left out of the economic recovery plan. This can be done because, unlike other EU funds, the recovery plan’s €750 billion would not be collected from the member states according to the rules laid out in the EU treaties. Instead, it would be raised in the market through bonds issued by the EU and guaranteed by the member states, which in turn requires the approval of member state parliaments. If the Fidesz majority of the Hungarian Parliament rejects it, Hungary will be left out of the programme. Not only would such a move deprive Hungary of a highly favourable financing structure but it would also pave the way for a process that I already pointed out back in 2019: leading Hungary out of the European Union.

This would create a two-speed European Union which, by the way, already exists in terms of the Schengen cooperation and the common currency but this time Hungary would risk complete isolation within the community.

This process will not be completed overnight but while the EU will keep walking the common path, Hungary will be stuck where it is today and after a while it will no longer matter if Hungary officially leaves or stays because our country will not be sitting at the table anyway, therefore it will get no money, either.

 

The fact that this process would lead to Orbán’s complete political isolation is hardly any consolation because the Prime Minister would pull down the masses of Hungarian people with him. As a Member of the European Parliament, I feel I must emphasize that there is no other feasible way for Hungary than the one offered by the European Union. This concept is supported by the majority of the Hungarian people, too. Respect for the rule of law and the fight against corruption are both indispensable parts of the model offered by the European Union.

If Orbán doesn’t like it, he’s free to leave the ship. But he must go alone because the people of Hungary don’t want to go with him.