EU news: Why Viktor Orban’s Hungary election victory is trouble for bloc

Boris Johnson meets Hungary PM Viktor Orban

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Viktor Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party declared victory shortly before all ballots had been counted after it was confirmed they had won 53 percent of the vote. Since beginning a second stint in power in 2010, the Hungarian Prime Minister has repeatedly clashed with European Union (EU) institutions, while developing a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Victory for Mr Orbán means he will now serve a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s Prime Minister.

The election represented the tightest contest since Mr Orbán regained power after six opposition parties united under one against Fidesz.

Nonetheless, he emerged triumphant and told supporters, in his victory speech, that his party “have never perhaps looked as good as we do tonight”.

But the win will have major implications for the EU and could spell trouble for the Brussels bloc.

Russia sanctions

While Hungary, a member of both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), has condemned Russia’s invasion it’s stopped short of agreeing with all of the actions taken by the West.

In particular, Budapest has opposed a ban on Russian energy imports and declined to bilaterally provide Kyiv with weapons.

Mr Orbán’s victory means he is likely to pursue a similar stance as EU leaders debate whether to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow.

In recent weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has attacked Mr Orbán for taking a softer line with Russia than other EU leaders.

However, the Hungarian PM snapped back at Mr Zelensky, on Sunday, listing him as one of the opponents his party had faced in the election.

Other groups mentioned by the 58-year-old included “the left wing at home”, “the international left wing” and the “Brussels bureaucrats”.

During his time in office Mr Orbán has nurtured a close relationship with President Putin, which has made him an outlier in Europe.

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Concerns about Hungary’s political system

For a number of years now the EU has held fears that Mr Orbán’s party had designed the current Hungarian electoral system, and controls – directly and indirectly – much of the media landscape.

In 2018, the European Parliament decided to trigger the bloc’s Article 7 censure proceedings – a move undertaken if the EU’s core values are considered to be at risk – though it had little effect on the situation.

To date, Budapest has faced few concrete consequences for undermining democratic norms, even while the EU has withheld money earmarked for Hungary in the bloc’s Covid recovery fund.

Prior to the election taking place the European Commission was expected to activate a new mechanism to cut budget funds to Hungary over rule-of-law concerns.

However, it held off, in part due to the election and is now likely to face calls to act once more.

The EU and Hungary have also locked horns over a handful of other issues such as concerns about rights for LGBTQ+ people, judicial independence, migration and media freedom.

For example, last year the country passed a new law that banned the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change.

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