EU and Hungary on a collision course

Budapest is refusing to support the EU Commission's plan to tighten sanctions against Russia. The newly re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared on Wednesday that for him import restrictions on Russian oil or gas constituted a red line that could not be crossed. Prior to this EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had announced the launch of a rule of law procedure against Hungary. Where will this conflict lead?

Open/close all quotes
NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Protect democracies from patriotism

NRC Handelsblad welcomes the fact that the rule of law mechanism is now finally being applied:

“This is a wise but late move, given that Orbán has just been re-elected for another four years. ... According to Orbán, 'patriotism' has won. 'This is our message to Europe: we are not the past, we are the future.' It is now the task of the Commission and all member states to ensure that this future no longer stands in the way of European values and liberal democratic principles.”

Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

Row with Brussels has made Orbán stronger

Efimerida ton Syntakton criticises the rule of law mechanism as a lengthy procedure with uncertain prospects of success:

“Once the Commission formally launches the procedure, a protracted dispute with Budapest will ensue. Then the EU Council, i.e. the member states, will be called upon to decide, and the Commission's proposal will need a 'qualified majority', in other words at least 55 percent of EU countries representing 65 percent of the European population, to be adopted. We'll see what happens. One - almost existential - question, however, is whether the EU can ultimately defeat right-wing populists like Orbán with this approach. Because so far, confrontation has only made him stronger.”

Spotmedia (RO) /

The citizens wouldn't go along with a Huxit

Orbán would no longer be able to rely on the people's support if he threatened to leave the EU, Spotmedia believes:

“Orbán will certainly turn the EU's decision into a narrative that Hungary is being punished because it didn't vote as the EU leaders wanted it to. But it will not be so easy for him to put all his eggs in one basket and risk provoking a withdrawal from the Union that Hungarians would not support. ... Orbán knows that while Hungarians welcome cheap gas, even if it is Russian, they would not be equally welcoming towards a Huxit, which would by no means be advantageous in economic terms.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

Europe must accept the situation

Europe has no choice but to accept Orbán, writes economist Károly Lóránt in the pro-government daily Magyar Hírlap:

“Even the Western press admits that the two-thirds majority victory is a strong empowerment. A text published in the Financial Times puts it like this: 'A landslide victory now will push the EU toward accepting this as the new status quo: yes, it has authoritarian member states.' We would amend this wording to say that Brussels should accept that the EU also has member states that protect cultural roots and the cultural and national diversity of Europe.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

Dangerous wave of populism

The Hungarian elections are part of an ominous international trend, Phileleftheros believes:

“Voters, at least those who still participate in elections, are attracted to ideologies like those of Orbán, Trump or Bolsonaro. And the more difficult the people's living conditions become, the more they reinforce tendencies and beliefs like those preached by the Hungarian leader against homosexuals, immigrants and the freedom of the press. Hence his comfortable victory. ... Europeans are looking to the French elections these days to see if there is still any resistance to populism.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Orbán could threaten with Huxit

Hospodářské noviny sees Hungary's re-elected PM Viktor Orbán in an increasingly isolated position:

“Orbán's overwhelming election victory has raised awareness that EU members will have a country closer to autocracy than democracy among them, at least for some time to come. It's hard to explain to voters in the richer parts of the EU why we send money to such a leader when he doesn't respect our common rules and values. ... The question will be how Orbán will behave. One possibility is that he will start preparing his country, at least rhetorically, to leave the EU. He will simply threaten Brussels with a Huxit. The problem, however, is that his eastern allies Russia and China have little to offer him apart from cheap fuel.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

Now really turn off the money tap

Brussels must adopt a tough stance vis-à-vis Budapest, historian and commentator Timothy Garton Ash demands in the Irish Examiner:

“Unless the EU is prepared simply to accept that it now has an authoritarian member state, it should at long last impose rigorous conditionality on the flows of European money that have long been one of the main founts of Orbán's power. This means continuing to withhold post-Covid recovery grants and loans since transparency cannot be guaranteed by a regime that is actually built on the corrupt use of EU money. It also means finally triggering the rule-of-law conditionality mechanism that could hold back significant chunks of funding from the EU's regular budget.”