EU must take on the threat posed by Hungary’s Viktor Orban

The prime minister’s xenophobia and intolerance is expected to be copied by far-right populists across Europe. Given what he represents and the discord he is sowing, his efforts to undermine the EU must be confronted and resolutely dealt with by Brussels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 1:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 1:54am

Freedom, democracy and human rights are among the values that the European Union prides itself for upholding. But Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has won a third term in office with a resounding election win, poses a challenge that could threaten the union’s foundations. His xenophobia and intolerance are shared by far-right populists across the continent and they are now expected to copy his winning formula to boost their political fortunes. Given what he represents and the discord he is sowing, his efforts to undermine the EU must be confronted and resolutely dealt with by Brussels.

Orban’s Fidesz party took almost 49 per cent of the vote by largely campaigning on the supposed threat of migrants to Hungary’s sovereignty. Muslim asylum seekers from Syria were the main focus, even though a border fence the nation has built has reduced numbers to a trickle and it has accepted increasingly fewer under its EU terms.

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Like United States President Donald Trump, Orban opposes multilateral organisations and globalisation, so his targets were the EU, the United Nations and Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom he blames for most of the world’s ills.

Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in parliament gives it the power to change the constitution, a worrying prospect given how Orban has eroded Hungary’s rule of law by the standards of the EU, muzzled the independent media, and curtailed the voices of opponents.

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Election observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that the opportunity for genuine political debate had been restricted by “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”. Non-governmental groups that help migrants and refugees are likely to be targeted next.

Orban’s systematic dismantling of institutions that hold Hungary’s government to account is a major threat to the EU. Reluctant to isolate a member state and constrained by rules that require consensus for action to be taken, the grouping has so far failed to come up with a meaningful response. But that must change if the EU’s values are to be protected, reforms to strengthen it are to be implemented and a message of deterrence sent to others with an authoritarian bent.