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EU sanctions threats to Hungary’s Orban over Covid-19 emergency powers don’t faze him, he doesn’t fear liberals who hate him

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
EU sanctions threats to Hungary’s Orban over Covid-19 emergency powers don’t faze him, he doesn’t fear liberals who hate him
Bugbear of the EU, Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban, has faced down the bloc over issues like immigration before and a lukewarm reaction from Brussels to his latest ‘power grab’ will simply make him stronger… and more popular!

To those who despise him, Viktor Orban is likened to Hitler. Others think of him more as a Bond villain, while former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker went so far as to jokingly call him “Dictator” to his face.

The Hungarian prime minister’s latest move to push through his parliament emergency measures that will allow him to rule indefinitely while the pandemic lasts has been denounced by liberals across the world – ‘The EU watches as Hungary Kills Democracy’, bleats the Atlantic – but closer to home, where these things tend to matter more, the European Commission have given Orban another pass.

They’ve simply said they’ll look at the situation in Budapest.

Also on rt.com German FM threatens Hungary with 'financial consequences’ after PM Orban gains emergency powers to fight coronavirus

Others are not so laissez-faire in their attitude. Germany’s Foreigh Minister Heiko Maas insisted there must be financial implications, ie: EU fund cuts, for such in-yer-face behavior.

This from a country about to blow its long-treasured citizen privacy out of the water with a coronavirus tracking app.

It’s okay for Maas to suggest financial punishment, but he’s not the one dealing with the bold Orban or with the laborious restrictions of the EU’s Article 7 covering sanctions of member states.

Any decision there, ultimately needs a majority of 72 percent of member states to agree to punitive action and if you think that’s gonna happen then just think of the horse-trading and alleged bribery that goes on in a normal (un-canceled) Eurovision song contest and you get a clear idea of the chances of success there!

Where was this outpouring of concern when French President Emmanuel Macron scrapped the second round of municipal elections a fortnight ago? Coincidentally, his En Marche outfit hadn’t fared so well in round one.

Also on rt.com ‘Why did we vote?’ French election officials sick a week after controversial ballot held amid Covid-19

Orban, displaying the sort of guile he is renowned for, countered any criticism with the perfectly logical claim that Brussels had more on its plate in dealing with the coronavirus than to worry about him at this point in time.

And this shows yet again, that despite the name-calling, hand-wringing and loathing the man attracts outside of his fiefdom of Hungary, Orban has the number of his critics and knows just how far he can push the limits.

And why is that? Firstly, he has built up an enviable powerbase in the Hungarian parliament, his Fidesz party holds two-thirds of the seats.

Secondly, his party sits securely within the ranks of the European People’s Party (EPP), the center-right stronghold of Europe that includes new commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Angel Merkel’s CDU. 

There he continues to cause havoc because the EPP needs him more than he needs them ever since the center right parties of France and Italy collapsed leaving the 13 Hungarian MEPs comprising the third largest national delegation within the group.

From that vantage point he continually baited Juncker and attacked other EPP allies despite being asked to stop and while calls have arisen again just today for his party’s expulsion from the European group, it is highly unlikely that anything will happen.

Orban is well aware of his power. While Hungary is a net beneficiary to the tune of 5-6 percent of its GDP per year from the coffers of the EU, despite some of his more audacious moves there has never been any punishment doled out, when it would have been quick and effective in bringing the recalcitrant leader back into line.

But no. Nothing.

In 2015, in the face of a migration surge from outside Europe, Orban built a fence along the Hungarian border with Serbia and Croatia because, he said at the time, the EU had been too slow to act, in the face of the crisis. 

He, cheekily, even asked the EU to fund its construction.

Hungarian border forces and civil militias patrolling the four-meter-high fence have tended to take “beating illegal migration” a bit too literally and often dole out hidings to hapless asylum seekers, sometimes taking selfies with their victims.

But one thing is certain: that fence worked. Oh, and it’s still there.

The EU did nothing about it. There was a bit of back-and-forth but Orban knew he was playing within the law and stood his ground. And won.

Now with the coronavirus pandemic the object of everyone’s focus, the Hungarian PM knows that he’ll get away with his latest move.

Also on rt.com Poland’s deputy PM wants to extend Duda’s term by TWO YEARS amid Covid-19 crisis, but would the president be happy?

After all, Hungary, in the grand scheme of things, is a relatively small (population around 10 million) member of the EU and to devote a lot of energy to fighting a man who is far too quick on his feet just doesn’t make sense.

Because coming down the track there could be moves in Poland to delay their elections for a couple of years due to the Covid-19 outbreak and with a population four-times the size of Hungary and equally ornery leadership in the Law & Justice Party, there could be real problems there for the EU.

So Orban is the victor again! Just how long he’ll be allowed to keep winning is the question.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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