Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Analysis

Orban 'vindicated' by EU refugee crisis

"Is there any question?".

When Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, arrived at last Sunday's (25 October) mini-summit on Western Balkan migration, his opening remark to the Brussels' press corps sounded like a provocation.

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

It came from a leader who has been repeatedly told he is wrong, but who now feels proved right.

Toning down his signature, pugilistic style, he also told press that he is just an observer in the Balkans talks because he has fixed Hungary's leaky border.

He was equally serene inside the chamber.

Other Balkan PMs did not take kindly to a lecture, by German chancellor Angela Merkel, on how to slow the flows of refugees.

But Orban "was a gentleman compared to the other leaders from the region", a source familiar with the talks told EUobserver, adding: "I’m sure he had a smirk on his face".

The self-assured silence marks Orban's shift from the right-wing fringes of European politics to a new mainstream.

Or, perhaps, the shift of the European mainstream to the right.

Orban himself fuelled the move by erecting fences on Hungary's Croatian and Serbian borders, by changing national legislation to enable him to turn back refugees, and by deploying the army to help deal with the crisis.

Austria, once critical of Hungary's razor-wire barrier, has now said it is considering a fence of his own.

Slovenia is mulling a barrier.

Croatia is not ruling it out.

Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia have also said they are ready to build fences, if necessary.

Some contend that if Hungary had not sealed its borders in the first place, there would be no need for the other barriers.

But Orban says he is merely upholding the EU's Dublin and Schengen asylum and border security rules, by protecting the EU's external frontier and by ensuring that migrants come through official crossing points only.

"I think this has changed the perception in Europe, the discourse is different," Gyorgy Schopflin, a Hungarian MEP from Orban's Fidesz party told EUobserver.

"There are people out there who say we have to grit our teeth, but, maybe, we have to admit that Orban was right after all," he added.

"People hate saying that."

"Hungary acted early, and we did it in the teeth of Western disapproval. Vindicated? Certainly, in the pragmatic sense."

Ars Orbanica

Orban has, for years, been harangued by various EU capitals on common values, human rights, and the rule of law.

European Parliament resolutions and European Commission inquiries have added to the outcry on his style of rule.

His bullish use of his two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament to overhaul the constitution and to push through legislation cementing his party's power made Europe feel uncomfortable.

But his critics misunderstood just how small a leverage they had.

There is no viable opposition in Hungary.

People's disenchantment with the democratic transition of 1989 - which brought unemployment and corruption - has created fertile ground for populism, whether Orban's, or Jobbik's, the Hungarian far-right party, the third largest in parliament.

Never shy of a scrap, Orban seldom backed down to Europe.

"The stronger the attack, the stronger we need to fight back," he said of his "ars politica" in Madrid, at a recent congress of the conservative European People's Party, to which Fidesz belongs.

Despite his EU critics, he could always count on EPP backing, including tacit approval by Merkel, despite her different views on the meaning of democracy.

"He must feel pretty vindicated now," said another source, who worked closely with Orban over the last few years, but who asked to remain anonymous.

The source noted that, for all their differences, Orban is concerned that Merkel might not politically survive the refugee crisis.

Missionary zeal

With no coalition partners and no domestic opposition to keep him in check, Orban is free to speak his mind - to the envy of some EU leaders.

Back in January, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, he was the first to link migration to terrorism and to describe it as a threat to the European way of life.

By putting the crisis at the center of his agenda, he not only stole momentum from Jobbik, which had been poaching Fidesz voters, but also positioned himself as a right-wing authority on the situation.

"Orban, for years, had hoped that an issue would come along where he can prove he's right and the Western liberal elite is wrong, where he could make a mark on the European political scene," the Hungarian source said.

"He has a missionary zeal."

But for all the schadenfreude of his admirers, the Orbanisation of EU politics is causing concern in other circles.

Contamination

Csaba Toth, an analyst with the Republikon Institute, a liberal think tank in Budapest, told this website the last thing the EU needs is more populists.

"Others envy the political gains Orban is making with the fence. While it is not a solution to the problem, they see it's popular with the electorate," he said.

He noted that Austria's swing to the right comes amid a threat to the grand coalition posed by the rise of the far-right FPO party, the Austrian version of Hungary's Jobbik.

"The Orban contamination effect means that others see you can be a populist in government," Toth said.

"If other leaders start to copy that, it will be a challenge for the EU."

Balkan migrant route plan full of caveats

The success of the action plan agreed by EU and Balkan leaders on Sunday will depend on funding, member state cooperation and migrants' good will. None of them are guaranteed yet.

Hungary to seal border with Croatia

Hungary will seal its borders with Croatia by midnight, with Zagreb planning to send migrants and refugees to Slovenia.

Asylum transfers to Hungary get the axe

Finland's highest court banned transfers of people seeking international protection to Hungary due to its poor and inhumane conditions.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Opinion

Italy will keep blinking in 2019

Italy's 'marriage of convenience' coalition government likes picking battles with Brussels. But with the economy now in recession, and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini needing to keep the business lobby on board, expect Rome to blink first.

Opinion

The test for Sweden's new government

While the formation of a new government ends Sweden's fourth-month paralysis, it doesn't resolve the challenge from radical-right populists in Sweden. A key question remains: will treating populists like pariahs undercut the appeal of their, often anti-rights, politics?

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us