Orbán doubles down on anti-EU rhetoric following latest slap on the wrist

The Hungarian government was undeterred by a European Parliament resolution that condemned its antidemocratic policies and questioned whether it should lose its EU voting rights.

By Lili Rutai

Lili Rutai is a London-based freelance journalist from Budapest. She has reported from central and eastern Europe for Al Jazeera, RFE/RL and Euronews

23 Jan 2024

The Hungarian government has remained defiant after the European Parliament last week adopted a non-binding resolution condemning the erosion of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Hungary – and called on the European Council to determine whether the country should be stripped of its voting rights. 

While Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did not directly address the resolution – which passed with 345 votes in favour, 104 against and 29 abstentions – he said Friday in an interview on state radio that his government would continue to take a strong line against LGBTQ rights and asylum seekers.

“They can’t blackmail us,” he said of the EU. Orbán again argued that LGBTQ activists would corrupt Hungary’s education system, while migrants would compromise the country’s national security. 

Meanwhile, the ruling Fidesz party echoed Orbán’s sentiments in a Facebook post that went up Thursday, the same day the EP passed the resolution. “We will not let them turn Hungary into a migrant-country and we will protect our children from LGBTQ propaganda,” the post of the official party account read. 

Balázs Orbán, the prime minister’s political director (no relation), went a step further and called for the abolishment of the European Parliament in a post on X following the vote. 

The Orbán government’s aggressive rhetoric makes clear that Budapest is unconcerned with the EU’s condemnation. If anything, the resolution only provides fuel for the government’s fiery nationalist rhetoric. 

This vote is more significant at the European level, according to Péter Krekó, the executive director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute. “It shows that the European Parliament is under pressure” ahead of the parliamentary elections in June, he said. And of equal concern for many lawmakers, Hungary is set to assume the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU just a month later. 

“For Hungarian politics, it doesn’t matter if the EP is attacking Hungary or not, or how it’s doing so,” Krekó argued, adding that Orbán’s government “will say that it’s under fire from the LGBTQ lobby and pro-migration left.” 

“And in the past years we’ve seen that with campaigns like this, Fidesz managed to mobilise its voters very well,” he said. 

Thursday’s vote came after members of the centre-right European People’s Party issued a formal petition calling for the invocation of Article 7 (2) of the Treaty on European Union – which allows for the potential suspension of membership rights – earlier this month. The final resolution urged the European Council to determine whether Hungary has committed “serious and persistent breaches of EU values” under the subclause. 

The step was triggered in part by Orbán’s decision to veto EU funding for Ukraine in December. He has also insisted he would block Ukraine’s potential accession to the Union. 

“This House shows that we are serious when it comes to defending the rule of law in our Union and that we are not afraid of Prime Minister Orbán’s blackmailing attempts,” said liberal Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh, vice president of the Renew Europe group.  “The Commission will now have to face the consequences for selling out our EU values,” she added in a statement on Thursday.  

Cseh was referring to the Commission’s decision to release up to €10.2 billion in previously frozen funds to Hungary in December. Still, approximately €20 billion remains tied up “until Hungary fulfils all the necessary conditions,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week, citing concerns over LGBTQ and refugee rights. 

It, nonetheless, remains highly unlikely that the Council will move forward on the EP’s resolution, and even less likely it would strip Hungary of its voting rights in a unanimous decision – one that would require the support of Hungary’s allies like Slovakia. 

The vote is also unlikely to shift domestic politics in Hungary, where the ruling Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. 

The country of 9.7 million has been sanctioned under the first subclause of Article 7 since 2018, due to a "clear risk of a serious breach" of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights – both of which have been significantly curtailed since Orbán took power 14 years ago.  

But the prime minister and his backers appear more emboldened than ever. As Fidesz politician and non-attached MEP Balázs Hídvégi wrote in a January 8 post on X: “By giving access to 10 billion euros, [the Commission] admitted that there is nothing wrong with #ruleoflaw.”

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