EU’s Headache: Hungary’s Orban and Serbia’s Vucic Proved They Are Here to Stay

Written by | Friday, April 8th, 2022

The Hungarian strongman, Viktor Orban, and Serbia’s populist pro-Kremlin president, Aleksandar Vu?i?, won landslide victories in Sunday’s (3 April) general and presidential elections, respectively. The nationalist conservative Fidesz party declared victory at Hungary’s parliamentary elections, securing a fourth consecutive term in office for its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban. However, the government looks set for a tricky term, with challenges for its cornerstone economic and foreign policies mounting. Despite the opposition having formed an alliance aimed at deposing Orban after 12 years, Fidesz has won about 53% of the vote – its largest margin of victory since 2010. That hands Orban another super-majority, with 135 of the 199 seats in parliament. “We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” Orban said in a bullish victory speech, referring to the EU’s long-term and increasing criticism of the far-right leader due to democratic backsliding in Hungary.
Hungary is becoming increasingly isolated in the EU and NATO — but Orban knows neither institution is keen to ostracize him. Fidesz’s success at the ballot box over the years has been boosted by Orban’s fiery rhetoric regarding migrants and minorities and his bitter campaign against the “globalist elite” and the EU. On the other hand, the opposition and many in Brussels accuse Fidesz of having established a network of corruption designed to steal the billions in funds that Hungary receives from the EU. Since the party’s super-majority enables it to change the constitution, it has not hesitated to overhaul Hungary’s judicial and electoral systems and rearrange the media landscape. This situation, in turn, raises doubts about the fairness of the electoral campaign and the vote itself. Fidesz’ better-than-expected result against the unified opposition and Orban’s buoyed victory speech has sparked worry that further capture of Hungary’s state institutions and conflict with the EU is on the cards.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s swift congratulation to Hungary’s leader, expressing hopes of building a “partnership”, has not long harbored deep suspicion by EU and NATO partners over Budapest’s links with Russia and China. Orban signed up to Western sanctions but has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons. A self-styled illiberal democrat, Orban has also repeatedly clashed with Brussels over rule of law issues such as press freedom and migration. Now there are signs that EU authorities will launch a sanctions process against Budapest that is intended to safeguard EU funds at risk from democratic-backsliding member states. EU countries that have government-controlled courts and captured state institutions can be deprived of EU funds, but the law has never been tested. The European Commission is reportedly expected to launch the “rule of law conditionality mechanism” against Hungary, a legal process that could ultimately switch off billions in EU payments to Budapest.
Also the election campaign of Serbia’s populist pro-Kremlin president was overshadowed — and shaped — by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “A huge thank you to the citizens of Serbia,” he said. “I am endlessly proud and endlessly happy.” Vucic ran for a second five-year term on a promise of peace and stability just as Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, which has put Serbia under pressure from the West to choose between its traditional ties with Moscow and aspirations to join the EU. He has been accused of autocratic tendencies and corruption, allegations he denies. In his victory speech, Vu?i? said his country planned to maintain “friendly and partnership relations” with Russia. He said it would stick to its balancing act between its EU membership bid and its close links with Russia and China, a major investor. Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas for its energy and its army maintains ties with Russia’s military.

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