Experts says the populist leader continues to use the immigration hot button to make the European parliament 'more conservative.'
With Europe’s parliamentary election just around the corner, nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched a seven-point plan as part of his party’s program on April 5 to curb immigration and resist liberal values in Europe.
Speaking to a crowd in downtown Budapest, Orban doubled-down on a divisive platform that has elevated his stature to power at home, pegging migrants and political forces who oppose him as a threat to the security of Europe. His pledges include restricting the authority of EU officials in Brussels and returning power back to nation-states to implement their own immigration policies.
“The leaders in the Brussels bubble have been influenced by the interests who want to dissolve the precedence of the EU’s Christian culture,” he said.
“[They are] weakening the rights to protect the borders.”
In addition to reducing the scope of Brussels in issues dealing with migration, Orban also called on the EU to do away with migrant visas, fire heads of EU institutions seen as in favour of migration and stop funding to any NGOs supported by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
With the EU elections slated for May 26, far-right parties including Orban’s Fidesz, which maintains a supermajority in Hungary, are expected to make considerable gains with immigration still a hot button issue. According to a poll last month by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Europeans across 10 countries believe that immigrants increases the risk of terrorism while 41percent believe they are burdensome for their country.
At the same time, there is growing discontent with the political establishment in Brussels with 62% of respondents saying EU leaders do not understand the needs of its citizens, according to the same study, which was published on March 19.
“Fidesz may look desperate with this topic, but I think they did the math,” said Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Europe think-tank.
Two weeks ago, the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest and most influential party in the European parliament, voted to indefinitely suspended Fidesz for breaches of party values, siting a recent media campaign attacking EU officials ahead of the election.
Billboards and posters plastered throughout Hungary depict the EU leadership in cahoots with the Hungarian born Soros, who is a frequent target of Orban’s, accusing them of introducing mandatory settlement quotas and reducing financial assistance for countries opposed to migration. Orban had pledged to take the posters down in the lead up to the EPPs vote last month, but international media show many have remained.
During his speech yesterday, Orban said that while Fidesz remains a member of the EPP, he may yet decide withdraw from it as “now it appears that the EPP is turning to the left, in a liberal direction.”
“His aim is to make EPP more conservative, not to join a new group,” said Jarabik. “But he may achieve only the latter.”
Orban’s campaign push comes just days before the EU is scheduled to deliberate on Article 7 proceedings against Hungary that were triggered in September. Accused of silencing media, targeting NGOs and removing independent judges, Hungary faces losing its voting rights in the EU if it is found to be in breach of the measure.
On April 4, several rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders sent an open-letter to the EU’s general affairs council, calling on them to speed up the process.
“It is high time to hold the government of Hungary to account in front of its peers for its actions,” the letter states, adding that the EU has been slow to hold hearings on Hungary’s various breaches of EU regulations since the motion was carried last year to proceed with them.
“We call upon you to ensure that such hearings are held in a format that allows for an in-depth scrutiny of the situation in Hungary in the council.”