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Hungary Under Orban Continues To Assert Sovereign Rights Within European Union

Viktor Orbán Prime Minister Of Hungary 2010-

Viktor Orban the Prime Minister of Hungary, has been in power since 2010. He had previously held the post from 1998 to 2002. As leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant Fidesz party, he continues to offer a vision for his country, that is contrary to most European Union leaders. His long tenure is no accident, he enjoys widespread support throughout many areas of Hungary.

Prime Minister Orban claims he is promoting a cultural counter revolution. For Hungary and Europe at large, he says his desire is to foment a movement based on the defense of the nation, family and Christianity. His brand of populism is based on national conservatism.

He points to as models, some of the government policies followed by the leaders of China, Russia, Singapore and Turkey.

In his view they all promote in varying degrees, the importance of national self-sufficiency, sovereignty, the value of family, full employment and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Hungarian Parliament Building on the bank of the Danube in capital of Budapest

The main opposition in the 199 member National Assembly is also to the far right, in the European political spectrum. The Jobbik was the first party in Europe, to promote the idea of a border wall. Some of its party members are known to have made a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma (Gypsy) statements.

The Jobbik party continues to assert the proposition, Hungary for the Hungarians. This idea is echoed by the ruling Fidesz party, as well.

The anti-refugee stance has paid handsome political dividends for both parties. The latter even held a super majority in the legislature, from 2010 to 2014. This was lost in the by-election defeat, that occurred in 2015.

Map of European Union (light green) location of Hungary (dark green)

One might suspect that these pronouncements, would make the country seem unwelcome towards refugees. That is not totally correct. Hungary has permitted migrants from different countries that have lived in Europe for generations and share similar political views, as espoused by the Hungarian political leadership.

Hungary a country of 10 million inhabitants, has been a haven for a growing number of international nationalists.

Hungary is not alone in the anti-immigrant position. The other nations in the Visegrad group consisting of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia all oppose further migration of groups, from outside Europe.

In their view, shared by other far right parties throughout the continent, the people arriving from the Middle East and North Africa, do not share common Western values. They therefore, will not be easily assimilated into the larger society and should be disqualified, to the rights of full citizenship.

Member states of NATO

This perspective is gaining a wider audience, as xenophobic political parties gain political strength even in liberal nations like Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Like most other post Communist states, Hungary originally had an integrationist political agenda. The nation joined NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

However as a sign of independence, Hungary has maintained its own currency, the forint.

As a nation with an export-oriented market economy, there has been a heavy emphasis on trade. Nearly 80% of all exports worth over $100 billion USD (United States Dollar), go to other countries in the European Union. Hungary consistently runs a trade surplus.

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to debt ratio is 74.1%. It has been declining since a high of 80.7% in 2011, and remains far lower than many other countries in Europe. This gives credence to the government claim of fiscal responsibility.

During the time of the legislative super majority by Fidesz, a new constitution was created along with other sweeping governmental and legal alterations. Although these modifications remain controversial in a number of quarters, the majority of the political changes have survived successive elections.

The legislation began with a new limit on the power of the constitutional court, as well as appointing new members, that would be more supportive of the government initiatives. The change in the electoral system, helped ensure a Fidesz victory in 2014.

The government also moved to create a new media regulator. It would subsequently, be headed by a supporter of Fidesz. Meanwhile, the public television channels were soon loaded up with pro-government journalists. A higher level of taxation on foreign media although enacted, would later be repealed, due to extensive criticism.

Among the populace of Hungary, trust in the institutions of the European Union have declined substantially. The citizenry had the expectation two decades ago, that living standards in their country would be closer to that of Austria or other Western countries, this far into the 21st century.

Hungary does has a GDP in excess of $120 billion USD, with a GDP per capita of $12,259.12 USD as of 2015. This is still far lower than Western Europe.

Budapest is a leading R&D and financial center in Central and Eastern Europe

Hungary continues to be one of the leading nations, for attracting foreign direct investment in Central and Eastern Europe. It nearly exceeded $120 billion USD in 2015 and is the largest electronic producer in the region.

Major industries include food processing, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, information technology, chemicals, metallurgy, machinery, electrical goods, and tourism.

Orbán and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Congress of the European People’s Party in Madrid, 21 October 2015

Although Hungary remains quite reliant on funding from the European Union at 6% of GDP as late as 2013, the government rejects the idea that funding should be tied to the willingness of their country, to accept more refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.

In October of 2016, the Orban government held a referendum on whether Hungary should be part of the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens, without the consent of the National Assembly.

Press conference following the meeting of leaders of Visegrád Group, Germany and France, March 6, 2013

The vote was put in motion when the European Union Council of Ministers approved the Emergency Response Mechanism. Adopted the year before, it called for migrants to be spread out among member states according to a quota system.

Four nations would emphatically object to the forced future placement of migrants. The Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and of course, Hungary. The latter two, would even make an appeal to the European Court of Justice.

Critics of the government insist the migrant issue has been used as a way to divert public attention away from issues of education, healthcare and the problem of corruption.

“Hungarians won’t live according to the commands of foreign powers”, Orbán told the crowd at Kossuth square in March, 2012

Although 98% of those who voted in the referendum would reject the European migrant quota, far less than 50% of the electorate participated. This officially made the vote nonbinding. Orban pledged it would still be later added, to the Hungarian Constitution regardless.

The effort of the opposition to boycott the referendum and voter apathy had been successful and it was a set back for Prime Minister Orban and his government.

Orban refused the expected call for him to step down from office, by members of the Jobbik party. His party retains the support of over 40% of the electorate. That will allow him to maintain power for now.

Hungary has sizable influence in Central and Eastern Europe. Although it remains a middle power in European Union affairs. It has been able to muster opposition from various countries, to a number of European wide proposals, that it deems are a threat to individual sovereignty.

United Nations conference in the assembly hall of House of Magnates in the Hungarian Parliament.

Enhancing Hungarian power was the signing of basic treaties with Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine after 1989. These pacts renounced all outstanding territorial claims and laid the foundation for cooperation on other matters.

Outside the occasional flare up concerning minority rights of Hungarians living in Romania, Serbia and Slovakia,the government of Hungary has maintained its treaty obligations with its neighbors.

The foreign policy of Hungary traditionally, was based on four major principles. These are Atlantic cooperation, European integration, international development and international law. The Orban government insists that these have been upheld during his tenure.

As an example, the Prime Minister can point to the fact that in 2015, Hungary was the 5th largest OCED (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) non DAC (Development Assistance Committee) donor of development aid in the world. The amount represented 0.13% of its Gross National Income.

In 2017, the Orban government continues to fortify the southern border of Hungary. He maintains the sentiment, that mass migration from Africa and the Middle East, is a threat to the European way of life.

Hungarian Border patrol

Technological enhancements are being used on the frontier with Serbia. These include heat sensors, cameras, loudspeakers and even a way to deliver electric shocks, to would be migrants. Hungary had also built a barrier in 2015, on the border shared with Croatia.

Further extensions of barriers on the border with Slovenia in the west and Romania in the east, proved to be unnecessary. Migration was slowed substantially into this part of Europe, as a result of a political deal between the governments of Germany and Turkey.

Prime Minister Orban remains socially conservative and his brand of soft Euroscepticism, continues to attract international attention. His uncompromising defense of national sovereignty and distrust of the ruling elites in the European Union, make that inevitable.

Although last year’s referendum can be considered a political setback, Orban remains one of the most influential leaders in Europe.

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