Hungary’s Election: What Does This Mean for the EU?

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By: Julie Schneiberg

On April 8th, 2018, Viktor Orbán won a landslide election for his fourth term as the Prime Minister of Hungary. Orbán, a member of the national conservative Fidesz party, is known for his autocratic behavior and anti-immigration policies. He holds strong relationships with other autocratic leaders, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and speaks fondly of them. His blend of Euroscepticism and national conservatism have earned him comparisons to Marine Le Pen of France and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The election result was not unexpected, though many Western officials believe Hungary’s implantation of xenophobic fear in their citizens and their model of democracy affected the outcome. Hungary has adopted an “illiberal democracy.” This model allows elections to take place, but often citizens do not have accessible knowledge of the activities going on by those exercising the power. “Voters had a wide range of political options, but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias, and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate,” said Douglas Wake, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Orbán’s approach to immigration differs greatly from the approach coming from the European Union. “We do not want to be a multicolored country,” Orbán said during a speech in February. One of Orbán’s campaign promises is to restrict immigration into the country. In a last-minute campaign strategy, pro-Orbán propagandist television stations broadcasted moments from the 2015 refugee crisis on election day to stir up xenophobic fears. Orbán has also previously refused to meet the EU’s immigrant and refugee quotas.  Whatever the reason for his reelection, Orbán will remain in office for another four years. With that timeline in mind, what should the EU expect for this upcoming term?

Hungary leaving the European Union is unlikely, at least in the near future. It remains highly dependent on the EU for funding and non-tariff trade. However, Brexit has added turmoil to the continent and to the European Union and provided political ammo to other secessionist movements. Poland, whose government has similar far-right tendencies, also poses a threat to the EU’s democratic principles. The country has adopted an illiberal democracy from Hungary. Recently, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki backed Orbán’s anti-immigration stance, in direct opposition to the French and German camps in the EU. Orbán’s recent victory reasserts his political mandate to oppose the pro-immigration stance of other European leaders and adds to the threat of far-right sentiments blossoming elsewhere in the EU.

As is, European support for populist far-right parties is higher than it has been in decades. Austria’s Freedom party, a far-right party that expresses strong anti-Islam and anti-European union ideologies, has made big strides in the last year. In the Czech Republic, progress has been made by billionaire populist Andrej Babiš’s ANO party. Despite losing last spring, France’s far-right Front National party received their best turnout by almost double. There is a similar pattern in the Netherlands, as Geert Wilders’s People’s Party managed to expand their spots in parliament from 15 to 20, despite losing the election, making it the nation’s second-largest party. Far-right countries voting powers on future legislation have the potential to stall the development of the EU by making it more exclusive to those who do not fit the standard European image. Orbán’s victory and the prolongation of his seat as Hungarian Prime Minister will create a big headache for globally-oriented EU leaders, as they continue to grapple with popularly elected officials and politically charged movements that challenge most of their core principles.  

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