Hungary in the EU
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 10.04.2018
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.
Whatever its effects on Hungary’s economy and society, the April 2018 Hungarian election will have significant implications for Europe as a whole. A convincing win for Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party will reinforce the veto role the governments of Hungary and Poland have designed for the Visegrád group in the European Union. Triggered by their opposition to the EU’s refugee policy but based on a much broader resentment of Brussels-based governance, Warsaw and Budapest have become champions of the sovereign counter-narrative to “more Europe”.
They face less opposition within the Visegrád group than they once did. This is because the Slovak government is in crisis; the strongman of Czech politics, Andrej Babiš, is struggling with fraud charges relating to EU subsidies; and Miklos Zeman, who is openly sympathetic to nationalist and populist views, has been confirmed as Czech president.
Orban’s Coalition against more Europe
Assuming he is re-elected, Orbán will seek to broaden this coalition by reaching out to Romania (despite the Magyarian rhetoric that complicates relations with Bucharest). As the governing Social Democrats work to contain anti-corruption efforts, they could use the veto coalition to counter possible EU attention. Orbán may also reach out to the Austrian government of the conservative Austrian People’s Party and its deeply eurosceptic coalition partner, the Freedom Party.
Both governments’ preferences on migration might serve as the core of an informal alliance that works to halt or reverse the EU process of pooling national sovereignty. Orbán, Jaroslaw Kaczynski – head of Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party – and other political leaders stand for the notion of majoritarian democracy, which centres on the “will of the people” as expressed in elections.
They regard that will as a legitimate basis for undoing the constitutional separation of powers – not least by politicising the judiciary – and limiting individual freedom and minority rights. It is likely that Italy’s next governing coalition will be somewhat open to adopting this kind of discourse and approach.
A resounding electoral victory for Orbán could accelerate the anti-Brussels coalition building.
Such is the nature of the deepening rift between the EU’s east and west, which is shaping the debate on the reform of the organisation’s policies and institutions, as well as the recently begun negotiations on its Multiannual Financial Framework, which will apply from 2020 onwards. A resounding electoral victory for Orbán could accelerate the anti-Brussels coalition building as much as a defeat or small majority could curb the Visegrád group’s momentum.
Hungary’s paradox: strong structural cohesion and weak individual cohesion
Hungary once adopted a leadership role in European integration – opening the border between eastern and western Europe, while rapidly adopting a market economy and transitioning towards democracy – but the pendulum seems to be swinging back. On both counts, the Hungary of the 1990s was a Musterknabe (front runner). However, ECFR’s analyses of cohesion and coalition-building in the EU reveal that Hungary feels less European and is less connected to western EU states than had been widely assumed.
According to the EU Cohesion Monitor, which measures the strength of factors that contribute to EU countries’ willingness to cooperate with one another, Hungary is the most visible EU accession success story in eastern central Europe. The country has experienced a massive increase in structural cohesion, yet continues to have low levels individual cohesion.
Indeed, ECFR’s 2017 data shows that Hungary has the lowest level of individual cohesion of all 28 member states. The country’s integration in the EU has had little effect on its citizens’ connections with other Europeans. Since Hungary joined the EU in 2004, financial transfers from the organisation’s budget have increased structural cohesion in the country more than any other member state.
In the EU Cohesion Monitor, Hungary’s funding indicator grew by 7.3 points (on a scale of one to ten) between 2007 and 2017, outpacing both the Czech Republic and Poland (whose indicators grew by 5.2 and 4.4 points respectively). By comparison, Bulgaria’s and Romania’s funding indicators grew by 7 points and 6.4 points respectively.
Hungary’s economic ties with the EU were strong before 2007, the first year in which ECFR gathered data for the EU Cohesion Monitor, and even before it joined the organisation. They have maintained a high level of economic cooperation ever since. However, during the past decade, factors that increase cohesion between Hungarians and other EU citizens have weakened slightly since 2007.
Hungarians’ have less personal experience with European integration almost any other national population in the EU – a level similar to that of Bulgarians and Romanians. Thus, while Hungary benefits massively from projects that Brussels has co-funded, its citizens are largely detached from the EU. In the EU Cohesion Monitor, Hungary had an individual cohesion score of 4 points in 2017; by comparison, Slovakia – which has greater individual cohesion than any other Visegrád country – had a score of 5.9 points that year.
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.
Download Hungary’s complete country chapter from the EU Cohesion Monitor here.
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).
- 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: ecfr.eu