Viktor Orbán's Battle with Brussels: Hungary's EU Presidency in Focus

Hungary's right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, known for his Eurosceptic views and frequent clashes with Brussels, has taken the helm of the EU Council

by Sededin Dedovic
Viktor Orbán's Battle with Brussels: Hungary's EU Presidency in Focus
© Janos Kummer / Getty Images

The right-wing nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is the first President of the Council of the European Union to publicly attack and degrade EU institutions. In his speeches and interviews in Hungary, he has repeatedly claimed that the EU threatens Hungarian sovereignty, destroys medium-sized businesses, and harms the agricultural sector.

He asserts that this is why he must go to Brussels to "shake up the power structures there." In recent years, Hungary has repeatedly vetoed decisions of the other Union members. Despite the generally Eurosceptic stance of the Hungarian government, the Minister for European Affairs, János Bóka, has assured that his country will be an "honest broker." Hungary will lead the meetings of the Council of Ministers until the end of this year, define agenda points at joint meetings, and lead negotiations with the European Parliament as the EU's legislative body, writes DW.

Hungary in the Dock

The image shows two men at podiums, with a blue background displaying "HU24EU" and "Make Europe Great Again." This is a presentation of Hungary's presidency of the EU Council in 2024. Never before in the history of the EU has a presiding country had as many conflicts with Brussels as Hungary.

The government in Budapest is undergoing proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty for potentially threatening the rule of law principles. The European Commission has also initiated several proceedings against Hungary for violating legal norms.

Recently, the European Court sentenced Hungary to pay a substantial fine for not correctly implementing the common asylum and migration policy. Viktor Orbán has expressed "disgust" at this ruling and announced that he would not accept it.

He stated that all heads of state and government with differing opinions must be "driven out." And now, the accused is moving to the position of chairman for six months – a period during which he is supposed to mediate neutrally.

Many observers in Brussels doubt that this is possible.

Hungary Wants Money

The tug-of-war between Prime Minister Orbán and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over financial aid to Budapest is particularly spicy.

Despite the Hungarian government's clear rejection of the EU and its rule of law principles in their current form, Orbán's cabinet insists on receiving funds from the pandemic recovery fund and the Cohesion Fund. The EU has "frozen" a total of 30 billion euros in financial injections due to significant corruption risks in Hungary and the assessment that Hungarian courts can no longer be considered independent.

Some of that money has been "unfrozen" to gain (some say "buy") Orbán's support for sending additional (political and military) aid to Ukraine. For the first time in history, an EU Council President has been penalized for violating the so-called "rule of law mechanism."

European Council Holds Informal Meeting Of Heads Of State© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Hungary Does Not Want to Help Ukraine

Hungarian Minister for European Affairs János Bóka has made it clear to Ukraine not to expect rapid progress in membership negotiations, which were formally opened on June 25.

No negotiation chapters will be opened during Hungary's presidency, he says. Budapest has been blocking financial aid to Kyiv wherever possible for some time. Currently, Hungary is resisting giving consent to send 6.6 billion euros in military aid to Ukrainians from an EU fund.

Will Hungary continue to insist on its veto on this issue in the second half of the year as the presiding country of the Union? The Hungarian government has not yet given a clear answer. But this too would be a unique move for a country that wants to be an "honest broker" – a country that, as the presiding Union member, should do everything possible to achieve a compromise solution.

Despite EU sanctions, the Hungarian Prime Minister continues to maintain good economic relations with Russian companies. During the European election campaign, he presented himself as a leader advocating for peace. "We will not allow ourselves to be dragged into any war, we will not allow ourselves to be forced to accept any illegal migrants, and we will certainly not allow our children to be re-educated," Orbán said during a state holiday celebration in March.

Hungary Needs Migrants

The influence that the presiding country of the Council has on the conduct of EU affairs should not be overestimated, says Thu Nguyen from the Jacques Delors Centre think tank in an analysis for the magazine "International Politics." The presidency program is already well-known, claims Nguyen, adding that Hungary can perhaps put a few of its own accents on it.

Immediately after the election of the new European Parliament, there are usually no significant legislative activities, Nguyen warns. She believes that the Hungarian presidency "takes place at a time when European institutions are busy with personnel shuffles, and above all with the appointment of the new Commission.

Therefore, relatively little legislative work will take place in those six months, in which the role of the presiding country is particularly important," she concludes, writes Detsche Welle.