The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Viktor Orbán, Fidesz, and the EU

The recent Hungarian elections on 8 April found incumbent Viktor Orban of the Fidesz party in office for a third consecutive term. He has served as Prime Minister since 2010, as well as from 1998 to 2002. Fidesz is a nationalist party, and Orban's relationship with Brussels and the European Union is historically strained, as many of his policies are seen as breaking with the typical EU mould.

The BBC reported that with 93 percent of ballots counted and a near-record 69 percent voter turnout, Fidesz had won almost half of the vote. Behind Fidesz is the nationalist Jobbik party, with 20 percent of the vote, then the Socialists with 12 percent, and the LMP, which is Hungary's main Green Party, in fourth with seven percent. Fidesz also has likely gained a two-thirds super-majority of more than 133 seats in the 199 seat Parliament, sending a resounding message of confidence to Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

This was a vote of confidence in Orbán's campaign promises, many of which, unsurprisingly, centered around the issue of immigration. While not anti-EU (as Hungary has benefitted greatly from EU funding), Fidesz has a history of tension with the EU and a vision of a more conservative Union. Hungary, for example, is a member of the Visegrad Group, a four-state bloc with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. The V4, as it is often called, revolted against the issue of "the European compulsory allotment of refugees for resettlement throughout the Schengen Agreement," and maintain armed forces to protect their borders. Among his campaign promises were plans to "defend the country's borders and block migration by Muslims," reported the BBC. The issue of immigration has been hot-button since the European immigration crisis and redistribution plan, with Orbán and the V4 remaining staunchly opposed to and wary of the plan and unchecked immigration.

Yet in other areas, Hungary is in cooperation with the EU. In November 2017, in fact, the Hungarian government signed up to PESCO, which is the Permanent Structured Cooperation for the protection of the EU. It offers members a common defence strategy, and Hungarian political commentator Benedek Kalmár noted that the government, "by signing the cooperation, appears confident that this military organisation will prevent illegal migration and will be effective in the fight against terrorism." It is unclear that this structure will be able to prevent terrorist attacks on individual states, but the decision on the part of the Hungarian government to sign up to PESCO is, nonetheless, a vote of confidence in the EU in one area. The Hungarian relationship with the EU, then, is not strictly tensioned, nor is the government strictly anti-EU.

The conservative mentality of Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian electorate, and the Visegrad Group, though, reflects and perhaps was influenced by Britain's vote to leave the European Union in 2016, as part of a wider conservative movement within the EU. The Brexit vote and the overwhelming vote of confidence of Orbán and the Fidesz agenda represents a rejection of the policies and ideology from the centralised EU structure in Brussels. States want to maintain independence within the bloc, as exemplified by the anti-immigration Hungarian mentality combined with their involvement in PESCO. A 2013 Bruges Group analysis summed up this attitude in pointing out that "Hungary's finance minister has described Brussels' 'imperial centralization' as counter-productive to Hungary's independent interests." While not conceptually averse to the EU, the government is opposed to the notion of an "ever-close European Union."

The Hungarian election was not ambiguously won. Orbán was re-elected into office with a parliamentary super majority and a near record turnout. EU leadership would do well to recognize this election for what it was: a representation of a growing desire for a less centralised European Union. It is not an isolated expression, and leadership should adjust, rather than attempt to quiet those voices.

Don't Do It! Any form of Defence union is a very b...
Splits, Splits and a Damned Position
 

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Friday, 16 November 2018