Orbán is lonelier than ever on the European stage – but he’s still got cards to play

21:42, Sunday, 29 October, 2023
Orbán is lonelier than ever on the European stage – but he’s still got cards to play

Viktor Orbán is more isolated than ever – but he is still fuelling frustrations across Europe.

The Hungarian leader, one of Europe’s most prominent far-right politicians, has long been an outlier on the European stage. But, as he arrives in Brussels on Thursday for a summit of EU leaders, he will be even more lonely than usual.
     The conservative Law and Justice party lost a key election in Poland this month, leaving Budapest largely on its own in its fight with Brussels over respect for democratic norms.

Meanwhile, Turkey has taken a step toward ratifying Sweden’s Nato membership bid, putting a harsh spotlight on Hungary’s reluctance to sign off.
     And a recent meeting between Orbán and Vladimir Putin has added to growing discomfort among European officials who see Hungary’s friendly ties to Moscow and Beijing as out of step with and even damaging to the western alliance.

The Hungarian prime minister “tries to keep up a role as the ‘bridgehead’ between the west and the east”, said Péter Krekó, the director of the Budapest-based Political Capital research institute.

Orbán wanted to maximise “the benefits of relationships in both directions – despite increasingly obvious signs that it is impossible in the current geopolitical reality”, he added.

But, far from backtracking, the Hungarian leader has only upped this rhetoric in recent days, pointing his ire at European institutions. “Moscow was a tragedy; Brussels is a bad contemporary parody,” he said in a speech on Monday during a commemoration of Hungary’s 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union.

“Moscow was beyond repair, but Brussels and the European Union can be repaired,” he said, pointing to next year’s European parliament elections.

The rhetoric has not gone unnoticed, with senior European officials saying they believe Budapest’s behaviour is becoming a bigger concern.

“The recent meeting of Orbán with Putin in Beijing and the way the Hungarian prime minister likened the EU to the Soviet Union raises questions over whether we can still trust this country as an ally and as a partner,” said one senior European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
     The problems with Hungary “will likely become deeper and deeper and increasingly endanger common decisions on strategically important questions”, the diplomat said.

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