Slow Claps

German right praises Viktor Orbán’s victory in Hungary

orban
If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it. Source: Reuters

German right-wing politicians welcomed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s election victory in Hungary Monday, while the European Union chose to issue a frosty response over the Hungarian leader’s anti-migrant policies.

Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister and leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) was quick to congratulate Mr. Orbán and take a jab at the EU. “I can only advise that the EU tries to maintain bilaterally reasonable relations with its member countries, especially smaller ones like Hungary,” Mr. Seehofer told journalists in Munich at the start of a CSU party meeting. “I have always considered this policy of pride and patronage towards individual member states to be wrong.”

Germany’s right-wing parties like Mr. Orbán’s hardline stance on refugees. After Germany’s ruling coalition lost many seats in last year’s election because of opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s acceptance of 1 million asylum seekers, Mr. Seehofer is on a mission to curb on immigration into Germany — something that Mr. Orbán has excelled at in Hungary.

“I have always considered this policy of pride and patronage towards individual member states to be wrong.”

Horst Seehofer, German Interior Minister

Joining Mr. Seehofer in congratulating the Hungarian leader was the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right, anti-immigrant party that is now the official opposition leader in parliament. “Congratulations Viktor Orbán. A bad day for the EU, a good one for Europe,” said Beatrix von Storch, an AfD deputy leader and member of the European parliament.

But the EU showed no sign of softening its stance toward Mr. Orbán despite his winning a third consecutive term with his Fidesz party, receiving 48 percent of the vote Sunday. Along with his Christian Democratic allies, Mr. Orbán now controls two-thirds of the seats in parliament, enough votes to change the country’s constitution. EU Commission President made no public comment, but his spokeswoman issued a terse statement reminding the Hungarian leader that defense of EU values “is a common duty of all members, without exception.”

Ms. Merkel also made no public comment but her office said she congratulated the Hungarian prime minister in writing. Berlin will “continue to critically deal with individual aspects of the policy of the prime minister and his party,” the Merkel spokesman said, “especially the different assessment of migration policy.” Although it wasn’t mentioned, Ms. Merkel’s government is worried that an emerging bloc of governments in Eastern Europe will be able to derail hope that the entire European Union can be reformed, which the chancellor has mapped out with French President Emmanuel Macron.

OSCE observers indicated that the vote was relatively free, though not all that fair.

A populist government in Poland is also currently at loggerheads with Brussels over the rule of law in the country after passing legislation that permits the removal of judges. And Warsaw and Budapest are hoping to block the EU from taking a stronger stand on migration and forcing them to accept Muslim refugees, which they refuse. Yet as anti-EU as Mr. Orbán’s rhetoric is, his country has been a major beneficiary of membership in the European club. The country receives €3.6 billion in net subsidies every year from Brussels (see chart).

Nonetheless, with his victory clinched, Mr. Orbán is pushing ahead with plans to pass a law banning non-governmental organizations from advocating on behalf of refugees and a liberal society in Hungary. The latter is aimed primarily at George Soros, the American hedge fund billionaire who has funded democracy programs and a university in Budapest. There is also growing concern that attacks against Mr. Soros, who is Jewish, have taken on an increasingly anti-Semitic tone, raising concerns of Hungary’s small Jewish population.

Douglas Wake, election observer of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said that the Hungarian campaign witnessed “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, biased media and opaque campaign funding.” But overall observers from Europe’s security organization who watched the voting on Sunday indicated that the vote was relatively free, it just wasn’t all that fair. The government’s “excessive spending on advertisements reinforcing the governing coalition’s campaign statements has undermined the challengers’ chances of competing on an equal footing,” the organization said.

Han-Peter Siebenhaar in Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Vienna, Till Hoppe covers the European Union in Brussels and Moritz Koch is the paper’s Washington correspondent. To contact the authors: siebenhaar@handelsblatt.com, hoppe@handelsblatt.com, koch@handelsblatt.com.

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