Tuesday

16th Jul 2019

Opinion

Putin-Orban axis assails the EU

  • Viktor Orban recently said the “age of bilateralism” is coming. (Photo: EPP)

Russian president Vladimir Putin makes an official visit to Hungary on Thursday (2 February), only two years after his last visit in 2015.

Hungary is the only EU member state that enjoys such frequent visits from the Russian leader since the annexation of Crimea.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The EPP should draw clear lines to rein in Orban. (Photo: EPP)

Putin’s last visit took place at one of the deepest points of the crisis in Ukraine. And since 2014 Orban has annual meetings with Putin - his most important diplomatic ally by far.

Orban had been reserved about his pro-Putin views when talking to European audiences, but these inhibitions have disappeared since the election of Donald Trump.

The Hungarian leader has just called for improving relations and abolishing sanctions towards Russia in Brussels.

In preparation for Putin's visit, a statue commemorating the heroic acts of the Soviet soldiers in Hungary, made by a Russian artist, was erected in Hungary.

It might seem strange for those who remember the earlier part of Orban's career, when he posed as an anti-communist hero and vocal critic of the Russian president. Ten years ago, Orban said: “Putin’s puppies have been proliferated in Europe and everybody starts to realise that this is a danger.”

Now, Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijjarto called Putin’s visit to Hungary timely, and told Reuters news agency that sanctions against Russia were “useless”.

During a recent visit to Moscow, Szijjarto said: “So far, whenever we tried to work on improving our bilateral relationship, we had to face American pressure not to do it and European pressure not to do it.

“Now ... there will be no American pressure.”

New attitudes

There are a lot of serious issues that Orban should, and could, raise when he talks to Putin.

Such as a Hungarian MEP accused of being a Russian spy, ex-governmental officials with shady Russian links, Russian support for paramilitary extreme-right organisations in Hungary, and the allegations by pro-Kremlin media outlets that the 1956 Hungary anti-Soviet uprising was a “fascist coup” and “CIA plot”, to mention a few.

But Orban won’t mention any of these points - he wants to strengthen the ties instead.

Hungary’s political and economic dependence on Moscow has already increased dramatically due to business deals like the extension of the Paks nuclear facility, which has been overshadowed by lack of transparency and corruption allegations.

Energy cooperation

After agreeing to building a nuclear power plant with Russian loans in 2014, Putin and Orban now can renew the long-term gas deal between the two countries.

This is crucial for Orban, as he hopes cheap gas can help him deliver his next parliamentary victory in 2018, as it helped him in 2014.

But the “friendship”, as Orban calls it, is not limited to economic and political levels.

Hungary's chief prosecutor Peter Polt has just returned from Russia, where he discussed ways of deepening cooperation with his Russian counterpart.

It included exchanging information and practices on how to “defend the public interest” and "fighting corruption".

At the same time, Orban is conducting a witch-hunt against NGOs in Hungary, using a Russian blueprint.

Other EU countries are friendly towards Russia - Cyprus and Greece and Slovakia for example - but Hungary is the only one that uses Russia as a model in practically every field: ideological, economic and leadership, and all at the same time.

The new age of bilateralism

It is not only Orban’s uninhibited pro-Putin views that are encouraged by the victory of Trump. So is his euroscepticism.

Orban recently welcomed the end of the era of multilateral deals after the presidential election in the US, saying the “age of bilateralism” is coming.

This might sound strange from the prime minister of an EU member state, but it fits well with his scathing attitude to the EU in other areas, such as his characterisation of the Brexit vote as a rejection of “preaching and paralysis” from Brussels.

Trump has also said that Brexit is a "wonderful thing", and his team openly supports forces that want to end the European Union.

Steve Bannon, the chief strategist for Trump, promised to help France's National Front in the forthcoming presidential election, and Bannon's right-wing populist media outlet Breitbart plans to expand into France and Germany.

Orban is openly promoting the European far-right's key points in his speeches, despite his party belonging to the centre-right EPP in the European Parliament.

According to Hungarian media, Orban wanted to meet Heinz-Christian Strache, chairman of the far-right Freedom Party, when he visited Austria in October 2015, but backed down after pressure from EPP.

Orban hopes that the current crises will sweep away the old European elite, and a new Europe, characterised by “truth-teller” politicians such as Le Pen, Strache and Geert Wilders (all are his fans) will emerge.

One in which he can live out his ambitions to become an official, or non-official, leader of Europe.

Orban and far-right politicians echo the same slogan, inspired by Trump: "Make Europe Great Again".

Enemies of the European Union

While the United States is strong enough to survive the Trump presidency, the EU might not be able to withstand the multiple threats it faces.

The EPP, which has just secured the European Parliament presidency, has a special responsibility in saving the mainstream.

The first step should be defending the EPP itself from threats among its own ranks.

While commentators have suggested that the EPP should expel Orban's Fidesz party, it would do much more harm than good. Fidesz would lose all its inhibitions.

Instead, the EPP should put more pressure on Fidesz, as they did successfully when it made Orban abandon his idea of reintroducing the death penalty.

Instead of defending Orban, the EPP should draw clear lines - otherwise Orban will continue his policies, and the party's political rivals and enemies will be strengthened.

Putin’s warm welcome in Hungary, ignoring the EPP line, might be a good opportunity.

If the EPP does not act, Orban’s prophecy could come true: “In the years to come, the mainstream will follow precisely the course that Hungary has set forth.”

Peter Kreko, Visiting Professor, Indiana University; Senior Associate, Political Capital Institute.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column / Crude World

Why Putin's union doesn't want to work with the EU

The EU should not dismiss institutional cooperation with the Russia-led economic association. But Moscow's previous behaviour with Ukraine and Moldova shows it won't let its neighbours turn too much to the West.

Weber: Six proposals in wake of Spitzenkandidat process

I will not lament the decision-making process that resulted in a package deal on the new leadership in Europe. I respect this result, which was in accordance with the treaties and therefore not undemocratic, albeit unsatisfactory.

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

News in Brief

  1. Ansip's ex-cabinet chief to head EU cybersecurity agency
  2. Malta starts trial of journalist murder suspects
  3. Full text of von der Leyen candidacy speech to MEPs
  4. Von der Leyen open to further Brexit delay
  5. Von der Leyen promises carbon border tax
  6. Brexit: both UK PM candidates say Irish backstop is 'dead'
  7. Mogherini: Iran's nuclear enrichment 'reversible'
  8. Report: Selmayr to leave 'next week'

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Son: Malta trial for murdered journalist 'not enough'
  2. Von der Leyen's final appeal to secure top EU post
  3. EU talks tough on Turkey, but arms sales go on
  4. The Abortion Exodus - more Poles and Croats going abroad
  5. Poland's ex-PM loses EU parliament chair again
  6. Von der Leyen reaches out to left and liberal MEPs
  7. Farmers among new MEPs deciding on EU farming money
  8. Von der Leyen's EU vote far from sure

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us