Viktor Orbán’s European career is over – The Weekly 43
It was just five or six years ago that Viktor Orbán’s name was seriously considered in the list of politicians who could have a significant impact on Europe’s future.
In all likelihood however, Fidesz’ “debarment” from the EPP Group this week will mean the end of the Hungarian premier’s European dreams, too.
Of course, they will keep Orbán in their memories for a long time, just not the way he thought.
Around 2015, the European Union was undergoing a serious crisis: while the community was more and more heavily criticized for being unable to define its own identity and values, the migration crisis also revealed grave security deficiencies. In the meantime, there were growing concerns that the United Kingdom might actually leave the European Union. Amongst all these uncertainties and the often contradictory voices, more and more people started to talk about Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán in Europe, too.
Orbán, who had already attained the two-thirds majority in two consecutive elections in Hungary and begun to establish a completely unlimited power for himself, apparently welcomed this situation. While the Hungarian PM demonstrated a clear assertiveness in pointing out the fallacy of any political attempt to sweep the migration issue under the rug or to accept and integrate anybody without exception, he had a strong opinion on the question of European values, too.
Orbán became the talk of the town in Budapest as someone who was no longer tested by the challenges of Hungarian politics and who wanted to become a formative politician at the European level.
In the short run, it seemed that Orbán’s tactics might be successful: the Hungarian PM did actually win the European debate on migration since more and more European countries, albeit less loudly and spectacularly, began to realize that they would be unable to accommodate and integrate millions of people overnight. In the meantime, Orbán was able to ride the rising “populist wave” while he, unlike any of his counterparts, had substantial pillars to rely on in mainstream politics, too. He had something that no other boisterous European politician could show for around 2015 and 2016: Orbán’s Fidesz party was a member of the European People’s Party, with excellent ties to Berlin and the German union parties.
This has proven to be such a protective umbrella that allowed Fidesz to go quite far: going into the 2018 Hungarian national elections, he launched a hatemongering campaign with the occasional anti-Semitic streaks, something that has not been seen anywhere in the western world in the past decades, while the Hungarian state bodies that had been filled up with Orbán’s people were constantly trying to block the opposition’s campaign. By 2018, Hungary turned from a democracy into a hybrid regime but Orbán, thanks to his connections, was always able to survive the truly dangerous attacks from abroad. The Prime Minister apparently dared to dream big.
Hoping to attain a key role in Europe by leveraging his connections to both the European People’s Party and the then increasingly successful populist right in 2019, he more and more openly talked about how he wanted to reshape the right side of the political spectrum by taking the EPP to a more radical direction. However, Fidesz had made Hungary’s public discourse so extremely heated and he had focused on his hatemongering and smear campaigns so much that it was no longer possible to conceal the Hungarian reality from Western Europe. The turning point came when Fidesz launched a fiercely anti-European outdoor media campaign, putting up the photo of his fellow EPP member and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker in a markedly negative context on billboards all over Hungary. At that point, the EPP punished him by suspending Fidesz’ membership. However, Orbán could still hope for a populist breakthrough in the EP elections.
The breakthrough never came and Viktor Orbán got stuck in the political no man’s land.
By then, Fidesz had already been suspended in the EPP and although his populist friends kept on sending him invitations, Orbán didn’t want to join any of them because these groups could obviously offer far less influence in the European arena than the European People’s Party. From then on, it was just a matter of time when the centre-right forces stop tolerating Fidesz among their ranks. To put it simply: the only thing we didn’t know was how long the German industrial lobby and the huge tax breaks and preferential treatment given to the German big business could counterbalance the deepening crisis of values. Now we know: for roughly two years.
There was no stopping on the path that Orbán had taken. The Hungarian prime minister seems to have overestimated his own abilities and, on the other hand, he thought he would be able to conceal from the world what kind of regime he was building in Hungary. However, the more Orbán’s two-faced game between the EPP and the populist right became obvious, along with the rampant corruption and the anti-democratic measures taken in Hungary, the clearer it was for people that Orbán, who had stood out with his outspokenness and assertiveness in 2015, was actually just a tyrant building his own political force and he would not save Europe. Instead, he will destabilize our continent – unless he is stopped.
The EPP Group showed a growing discontent with Fidesz’ policies which hardly contained any trace of similarity to those of its partners in the last few months.
Fidesz’ grand experiment to show two completely different faces in Hungary and the European Parliament failed because the political and style gap became intolerable for the EPP. As a result, Fidesz suffered one European fiasco and scandal after the other, which seriously tarnished the party’s reputation even among those who still believed that Orbán was to be reckoned with: László Trócsányi’s rejection as EU Commissioner, the scandalous capture in a Brussels lockdown orgy of József Szájer, the politician often referred to as the key link between Fidesz and the EPP, as well as Tamás Deutsch’s brazen insults thrown at his fellow EPP politicians have altogether brought the endgame for Orbán. Fidesz left the EPP Group on Wednesday, just before their rights would have been suspended there, too.
No matter which political family Orbán and his party join now, he will lose his connections to the key figures of European politics – and he will lose their protection, too.
In all likelihood, this means that Orbán’s European dreams have gone up in smoke. Considering the events in Hungary and the opposition’s united stance, it is not impossible that 2022 will bring the end of his Hungarian political career as well.
On the other hand, it is true that Viktor Orbán’s activities will leave a mark on Europe: in the form of the measures taken against his policies. The experience of Fidesz taking the misappropriation of EU funds and the dismantling of democracy to a whole new level eventually elicited increasingly assertive responses from the EU and ultimately made European cooperation stronger through adopting the rule of law mechanism. Every cloud has a silver lining after all. - JOBBIK MEP Márton Gyöngyösi