Viktor Orbàn’s Fidesz party is clearly popular with Hungarian voters. Following an election campaign that saw plenty of EU-bashing rhetoric, the ruling party has secured roughly 50% of the vote according to recent projections, meaning it’s likely to hold a two-thirds majority in parliament. This, of course, gives new impetus to the question: Will Hungary leave the EU?
Hungary has changed a lot during Prime Minister Orbàn’s twelve years in office. Since 2010, many analysts argue the country’s political system has been moving away from the liberal Western democratic model and towards an authoritarian or illiberal democracy, as seen in countries such as Turkey or Russia. The media are fiercely loyal to the state, obstacles are thrown in the way of a fragmented political opposition, and the separation of powers is crumbling. Nevertheless, these “strong men” who defend their countries against enemies (both internal and external) are apparently popular with the public.
Following the election, the question is to what extent the European Union can accept as a Member State a country which is arguably moving away from common European core values. The political criteria for EU membership are clearly defined. In case of breaches of those criteria, infringement procedures can be initiated. There are currently over 70 cases against Hungary. When is enough enough (for both sides)? How likely is a ‘Hunxit’ after Orbán’s re-election?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Terezia, who recently visited Hungary and was deeply shocked by the widespread hostility toward the EU that she saw. Was her impression an accurate reflection of Hungarian public opinion?
To get a reaction, we put Ralph’s comment to András Fekete-Györ, a Hungarian opposition politician and leader of the Momentum Movement political party. What would he say?
No, that’s not correct. The Hungarian government is anti-European. According to surveys, 70% of Hungarians are in favour of staying in the European Union. Thus, Hungary is one of the most pro-European countries there is. We also greatly benefit from the money European taxpayers pay for subsidies. But the political elite in Hungary does not let this money reach people; they steal this money! The money is not spent on solving social or structural problems. This is a huge problem, but does not mean that the Hungarian population is against the EU.
To get another perspective, we also put Terezia’s comment to Jan Niklas Engels, the office manager of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Budapest. What would he say?
Interestingly, she is not right. According to Eurobarometer, 40% of Hungarians have a positive attitude towards the EU, 40% a neutral attitude, and only 20% a negative one. This is above average in when compared to other European countries, although [support for the EU] has been decreasing since 2010. This could be one reason why the Hungarian government is happy to use Brussels as a scapegoat. This happens in many countries, but what is unusual in Hungary last year was a nation-wide political questionnaire with the title “Stop Brussels!”, in which voters were asked very leading questions. Of course, this does not allow a neutral discussion and ultimately it splits the country. Part of the population is therefore also experiencing discontent about the European Union. Therefore, I can imagine that Terezia met such people who have developed a real hostility towards the EU.
Next up, we had a comment from Oliver, who expects to see ‘Hunxit’ after the election because Hungary does not want to accept judgements from the European Court of Justice. Is a Hungarian exit from the EU a realistic prospect? What did Jan Niklas Engels think?
I think it is unrealistic to expect Hungary to leave the EU because a large part of the Hungarian population are in favour of EU membership. In addition, Hungary benefits greatly from subsidies, with calculations showing that 60% of investment in the country was financed by the EU. The Hungarian economy is also very closely interwoven with the economies of other EU countries; the German automotive industry is particularly important. That would be threatened by an exit.
In the long term, however, economic reasons will not suffice; we should also agree on fundamental rights and values. Here Hungary has taken a different course, often speaking of an ‘illiberal democracy’. So, in the long-term, the threat of a Hungarian exit from the EU does exist. To avoid this, we should speak more in the EU about our common values and our vision of the future of Europe…
Will Hungary leave the EU? Do you think that is realistic or is the population clearly behind Europe while the government provokes? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!