The campaign is the latest provocation by the Hungarian prime minister in his enduring conflict with the EU.
With European elections just months away, the European Commission (EC) yesterday strongly denounced a new campaign by the Hungarian government directed at its leadership as “ludicrous” and “fake news”.
Earlier this week, the Hungarian government led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban unveiled a new poster campaign targeting EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for pushing a migration agenda that would threaten Hungary’s security.
The anti-Brussels attack ad shared on social media pictures both Juncker and Soros with the caption: “They want to introduce mandatory resettlement quotas. They want to weaken member states' right to border protection. They would ease immigration with migrant visas.”
The campaign comes as the latest provocation in the increasingly autocratic Hungarian prime minister’s enduring conflict with the EU as he seeks to strengthen his role as a leader in Europe’s far-right movement ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
"The Hungarian government campaign beggars belief," EC spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday. "It is shocking that such a ludicrous conspiracy theory has reached the mainstream to the extent it has. There is no conspiracy. Hungarians deserve fact, not fiction," he added.
"It is not true that the EU ... undermines national border protection, quite the contrary. And there are zero plans for the so-called humanitarian visas. Member states decide to what level they want to accept legal migration," Schinas said.
Orban has used a relentless anti-migrant platform in Hungary to win elections and paint long-standing democratic institutions as enemies of the state. The European Parliament last year voted to censure the Hungarian government for eroding democracy; Orban stands accused of silencing the media, targeting NGOs and removing independent judges.
However, experts warned that the EC response was not the right way to go about the growing threat from Orban.
“This is not an effective way to handle this situation. The problem is everyone who is a fan of [political party] Fidesz in Hungary don’t believe anything communicated by the Commission and anybody who stands against Orban knows their whole campaign is a big conspiracy that has nothing to do with migrants,” said Gabor Polyak, Director of the Budapest-based Mertek Media Monitor.
“Hungarian society is absolutely polarised and politics is not about rational argument it is about belief. Fidesz is not a political party, they are a religion,” he continued.
After sweeping his way to victory in Hungary’s contested election last year, Orban and his Fidesz party have used a supermajority in parliament to assure the passage of several controversial laws. He has also used his position to attack Hungarian-born activist Soros, forcing his Open Society Foundations and Central European University to withdraw from the country.
Regardless, Orban’s aggressive brand of campaigning has resonated with Hungarians, regardless of whether what he says is the truth. In a regional trend, Eurosceptic and far-right groups throughout Europe, including Orban’s Fidesz party, are slated to make gains in May’s EU parliamentary elections, according to the parliament’s internal forecasts released this week.
“This is all about the election of course and Orban does not give any favours. He’s an EPP [European People’s Party] politician, so he’s happy to play this game,” said Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Carnegie Europe think-tank. “This is a calculated campaign and the more reaction they can get the more political might they can gain.”