2. Hungary in the EU
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 12.04.2018
Balkans Danube Ex-USSR
*A convincing victory for Victor Orban will reinforce the Hungarian veto role in the EU. However, the country has only marginal influence beyond its neighbourhood on EU policies.
Hungary’s coalition profile: a regional networker with no outreach
Budapest’s interactions with other European capitals are also mismatched with EU-Hungary economic interdependence. Politically, Hungary focuses primarily on its immediate neighbourhood and has very weak ties beyond this area. According to bureaucrats and think-tankers within the country, Hungary prefers to concentrate on interactions with other members of the Visegrád group, particularly Poland and Slovakia.
They also perceive Germany and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom as important interlocutors, but not ones that share Hungary’s interests. However, neither German nor British policy professionals show reciprocal interest in Hungary. Aside from Poland and Slovakia, all of Hungary’s fellow member states describe it as a disappointing coalition partner (the UK, Poland, and Greece are similarly unpopular in this regard). Meanwhile, largely due to disagreements over migration policy, Hungary expresses most disappointment in its partnership with Germany, followed by France, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Greece.
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Only other members of the Visegrád group regard Hungary as an essential partner. Some member states view the country as important on certain issues, such as Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia on foreign policy and security, and Romania on security and economic and social policy. Similarly, Hungary’s perceived essential partners are other Visegrád members and its neighbours (the only exceptions being Germany and the UK, as noted above).
In sum, Hungary is a regional networker with strong ties to neighbouring countries. However, the country has only weak influence beyond its neighbourhood; although it works to engage with Germany and the UK, the former pays little attention to Hungary and the latter is leaving the EU.
In all likelihood, Budapest’s ability to organise an EU caucus that opposes German policy preferences is its most important tool for forcing Berlin to address its concerns.
Hungary is a regional networker with strong ties to neighbouring countries. However, the country has only weak influence beyond its neighbourhood.
- If the views of Hungary’s bureaucrats and think-tankers generally reflect those of its political class, the country is more wary of European integration than most other EU member states.
- These professionals prefer to deal with a range of EU and foreign policy issues on a national basis rather than within the organisation as whole or sub-groups of member states. In Hungary, organisations pursuing greater European integration receive little support, but there is relatively widespread backing for the eurozone and, to a lesser extent, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and EU energy policy.
- Hungary is an outlier on the EU’s common Russia policy. Like Greece, it expresses strong reservations about the policy – a position that it may have adopted due to the bargaining power that could flow from establishing special relations with Russia. In Hungary, the proposal for a common EU border police and coast guard has significant support (in contrast to those on common asylum, migration, justice, and home affairs policies) but is polarising: proportionally, more Hungarians reject the proposal in favour of a national approach than any of their EU counterparts aside from the British (26% and 30% respectively). Hungarian bureaucrats and think-tankers only appear to support “more Europe” on key issues such as the single market, climate policy, and European defence.
Nonetheless, public opinion could hardly be used as justification for the Orbán government’s euroscepticism. According to an EU-wide poll ECFR commissioned around the time of its survey of the EU Coalition Explorer, the Hungarian public generally has a more positive view of the EU than Hungarian bureaucrats and think-tankers.
Given these trends, Hungary will likely maintain its approach of weakening the EU to prevent the organisation from interfering with national policies. Obstruction will remain an important tactic for Budapest as it works to gain the attention of, or extract concessions from, other member states. Nonetheless, Budapest will try to avoid biting the hand that feeds it, particularly in relation to financial flows. In this context, the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework will set the margins of Hungarian manoeuvrability. Should net contributors to the budget and reform-minded countries build a strong coalition, they will test the power of the Visegrád group. Orbán himself could abandon his opposition to Brussels if he is forced to choose between financial benefits and the veto.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: eu