Katarina Barley says she is considered a “public enemy” in Hungary. MEP from the SPD and Vice-President of Parliament is known within the EU as one of the harshest critics of the situation in Hungary. She even once described Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a “dictator”. She hinted that Orbán has restructured the state in such a way that he can hardly be rejected from power. Barley says she can now be seen between Adolf Hitler and George Soros on hate posters that Viktor Orbán has put up.
MEP Daniel Freund has also gained a relevant reputation. The Greens are experts in corruption and as such the natural expert in Hungary. According to official figures, four percent of European subsidies seep away into dark channels in the country. No other country is even close to achieving such values. Freund has repeatedly condemned how Orbán, his family and friends benefit from EU support. When he travels to Hungary, Orbán’s party friends may say on television that Hungary has had enough of German invaders “in brown shirts or in green shirts.”
With a little cynicism, one could take as much fame as a compliment. But it is simply a symptom of the depressing relationship between Orbán and the EU institutions.
how to deal with this man Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister since 2010, is considered a disgrace to the EU. He has submitted to the state and shamelessly enriches himself. At the same time, he skillfully uses any criticism from Brussels for his propaganda against the EU elites who want to subjugate his country. Opposition candidate Péter Márki-Zay, during his visit to Brussels in November, is said to have asked the EU to refrain because Orbán used every word he spoke for propaganda. In any case, Manfred Weber, President of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, has not commented on Orbán, who has belonged to his party family for so long.
Orbán supports EU sanctions, but he is considered to understand Putin
If you talk to members of parliament who are intensely concerned with the situation in Hungary, you can sense frustration, because the war in Ukraine can help Orbán. He receives refugees, supports EU sanctions against Putin in Brussels – and at the same time creates an anti-EU atmosphere in the country. “Orbán understands Putin and is now pretending to be a dove of peace who will not let any NATO weapons through the country,” said Moritz Körner of the FDP. “If a majority in Hungary buys the show from him, he could almost be re-elected.”
Freund followed the opposition candidate during the election campaign and felt some optimism. Like Katarina Barley, however, he finds it annoying that the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has not long ago taken tougher steps against Orbán and used the new rule of law mechanism against him. This would make it possible to block large amounts of funding. That would have helped the opposition, they believe.
The EU institutions and their problem states, that’s a tough story. Since 2018, the Council has been running so-called Article 7 proceedings against Hungary for violations of EU values and one against Poland since 2017. It is the EU’s sharpest sword and it could end up being suspended. However, the procedures are not progressing because most of the other Member States are not interested. And in the end, the expectation was that Poland and Hungary would always back each other up.
What hurts: Commission withholds money for post-Corona reconstruction
What really hurts the two governments: Because there is no progress in the fight against corruption (Hungary) or in restoring an independent judiciary (Poland), the Commission is withholding money from the Corona Reconstruction Fund. At this point, things could now go in different directions for the two countries.
The Commission reports that there are almost daily talks with Poland. The country plays a key role in the conflict with Putin, has received two million refugees and is also suffering from the collapse of economic relations with Ukraine. There is an urgent need for the 24 billion euros from the Corona Fund, and therefore there is a willingness to compromise, it reads.
Orbán, on the other hand, for whom more than seven billion is at stake, has no interest in approaching the EU so shortly before the election. If he wins the election, however, he may be forced to vote afterwards, Daniel Freund believes: Orbán gave out so many election gifts that the country is as good as bankrupt.
But Orbán had to take very big steps towards the EU. In Brussels, it is considered a possible scenario that the Commission will soon release the Corona funds to Poland, but not to Hungary, and even more: against Hungary also to initiate the rule of law mechanism. Then Poland and Hungary, the supposed twins, would be separated and the Commission would have shown energy.
No one knows if that will happen. Katarina Barley believes that the war in Ukraine should not be a reason to be mild. “Precisely because the EU wants to expand to the east and the Western Balkans or Ukraine will be added at some point, we have to stick to internal rule of law standards,” she says. “We also owe it to those who are willing to join in and make an effort to meet the standards.”