In 2015, then European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker jokingly called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “dictator”. Seven years later, Orban has seriously gotten used to ruling his country with quasi-dictatorial powers.
For his new inauguration as Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban gave himself the best gift: the declaration of a national emergency. It’s so easy to govern in a much more practical way.
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Apparently, Orban not only gets a large part of the oil and gas needed in Hungary from Russia, but also his ideas about the structure of a state. After his clear election victory in April, he quickly set about adapting the country even further to his concept of an “illiberal democracy”. Armed with a comfortable two-thirds majority in parliament, he had the constitution amended to expand the number of reasons for declaring a state of emergency.
Orban was already able to bypass parliament by decree and override existing laws. He was empowered to do so by the pandemic emergency he had already declared. This would soon have expired, and the Prime Minister promptly had a new reason ready to rule with continued power: the “constant danger for Hungary” from the war in Ukraine.
A few days before the forthcoming next EU summit on the situation in Ukraine, Orban reiterated his opposition to an oil embargo against Russia. Apparently he likes the role of a strong man who – although he only governs a people of ten million – can show off 26 other states. His strong support at home seems to have gone to his head. He basks in the splendor of newly created jobs and an increase in the average income of Hungarians during his tenure.
His Fidesz party, which had to leave the Christian Democratic group in the European Parliament, looks with contempt at Christian-conservative parties in the West that were once friends – they are all too soft-washed for the taste of Orban party members. One prefers to be close to ultra-right figures like the French Marine Le Pen.
Orban has thoroughly alienated his previous strongest ally in the east, Poland, with his less harsh attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the Visegrad Group, cooperation with the Czech Republic and Slovakia has also become more difficult for him since none of his like-minded people have ruled in these countries.
Orban has long been at odds with the EU. He feels misunderstood and persecuted by Brussels. According to him, key forces in the EU leadership disapprove of his advocacy of traditional values such as family and patriotism. Nevertheless, Orban likes to help himself in Brussels, where he is suspected of corruption. He would like the EU to pay for most of the restructuring of the Hungarian energy sector. To end its dependence on Russia, expenditures of 15 billion euros could be necessary.
Orban claims that he has to represent Hungarian interests beyond his own national borders because of the sizeable Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries, who are considered to be his particularly loyal voters. This leads to friction, again recently with Romania.
So the Hungarian Prime Minister is a troublemaker in many fields and increasingly isolated within the EU. It’s time to make that absolutely clear to him. The rule of law procedure initiated by the European Commission against Hungary is a good way to do this. As an answer to the permanent state of emergency in Hungary, it should now be consistently implemented. Such a strict procedure has a signal effect. Now that the Polish government, which is also under suspicion, sees how serious Brussels is about the Orban case, it is preparing to give in to the dispute over its own interference with the independence of the judiciary.