Viktor Orbán's plan for the EU is months away from adopting a rotating presidency – Executive Digest

Hungary is, in the words of Viktor Orbán, preparing for war. “We have to go deep, take positions, gather allies and fix the European Union,” the 60-year-old Hungarian prime minister declared in an interview late last year. “Anger is not enough. We must control Brussels.

The Hungarian prime minister has stood out as one of the EU's most critical voices, using it as a scapegoat to garner populist support and characterizing Hungary's relationship with Brussels as a battle to consolidate right-wing ideology based on nationalism and traditional family. values.

Since April 2022, there has been a change in Orbán's tone and approach to the EU. In the Hungarian leader, the EU is facing a new kind of Euroscepticism from someone who doesn't want to leave the bloc, but doesn't want to shape it, as he prepares to take over the rotating presidency of the European bloc in July. “If we want to maintain Hungary's independence and sovereignty, we must occupy Brussels and bring about change in the European Union,” declared Orbán at a rally in Budapest on the 15th.

Zsuzsanna Szelenyi, Orbán's former ally-turned-critic, asserted in reports in 'POLITICO' newspaper that the prime minister's efforts to shape the political debate in Europe reflect the self-confidence of a leader who faces no significant opposition in Budapest. “Orban need not worry about losing power at home because he has amassed enormous power,” he highlighted. “Its scope is now wider than Hungary. It has been very clear for some time. He wants not only to protect his rule in Hungary, but also to influence the political culture of Europe. Brussels is the cornerstone of this.

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Budapest sees the coming months as a critical window for political change. In June's European elections, citizens across the bloc will elect 720 members of the European Parliament and trigger a sweeping reshuffle of the EU's top leadership roles.

Opinion polls point to a shift to the right, with populist and nationalist parties gaining ground and centrist and left-wing forces losing seats – coinciding with Hungary taking command of the Council of the European Union.

“I don't see such a good chance for national, conservative, sovereign and Christian-based forces to dominate the EU for a long time,” Orban highlighted. “This is not an overnight revolution,” he said. “But the change can start from June. That's my hope, and I'm working on it. I will try to play a role in uniting the right and rooting out dangerous socialists, leftists, progressives and liberals.

What does Orban want?

Most of the time, the Hungarian leader and those around him frame their ambitions negatively: opposing bureaucracy, immigrants, the “LGBTQ agenda” and helping Kiev in its war against Russia. What they did not do was suggest that Hungary should leave the EU.

“We can adopt a simplistic approach and suggest that Hungary is against the European initiative, but let's look at the reality”, Zoltán Kovács, the Hungarian government's international spokesman. “Hungary follows the European trend 85 to 90% of the time in its agendas.” Support for EU membership remains strong in Hungary: 72% of Hungarians see membership as a good thing in a recent poll.

“Orbán can criticize the EU,” said András Bíró-Nagy, director of the Budapest-based think tank 'Policy Solutions'. “He can say he's going in the wrong direction, but he can't joke about Hungary's entry into the EU. It's a red line even for his own Fidesz voters.

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So, instead of wanting to leave the EU, Orbán and his allies insist on reshaping it, giving more power to national governments (sovereignty, in their parlance) and less to institutions in Brussels. “Sovereignty is the key idea,” said Balas Orban. “We need someone who represents the idea of ​​cooperation between individual national member states – not a federal superstructure. In fact, this was the basis of the idea of ​​the European Union in the beginning.

What to expect from the Hungarian rotating presidency of the Council of Europe?

Many in Brussels expect a rough ride, and some believe Orbán will not take the opportunity to tilt politics in his favor. According to Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijardo, immigration will be a focus of the country's presidency. “A sharp political change is needed in Brussels so that the EU does not attract, but deter illegal immigrants,” he said.

Another priority is enlargement, but on Hungary's terms: that is, more attention should be focused on the aspirations of the Western Balkan countries, not on Ukraine, but on Budapest's opposition to entry.

In his annual address to the Hungarian parliament last February, Orbán noted that Hungary's EU presidency would coincide with the US presidential election. “Make Europe great again!”, he guaranteed. “There's MAGA, here's MEGA.” “A new European right can bring real change, and we Hungarians are a part of it,” he added. “Down with Brussels. Long live Europe!”

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