February 22, 2024

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Don't expel Orban's Hungary from the EU and NATO

Don't expel Orban's Hungary from the EU and NATO

Written by Mark Champion

The position that Hungary has become a cuckoo in the West's nest is getting stronger every day. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has not only succeeded in destroying his country's democratic institutions, but he also stands as the only obstacle to the European Union providing significant aid to Ukraine and Sweden becoming a member of NATO. It is therefore tempting to want to remove the country from Western institutions and recognize Orbán's Hungary as it has become – that is, as an adversary.

The costs of tolerating the Hungarian Prime Minister's antics are certainly mounting. Although Orban has allowed the EU to offer Ukraine the start of accession negotiations in November by leaving the chamber rather than using a veto, he will have many opportunities to stand in the way of Ukraine's accession during the decade or more it is likely to take. The command. Until the country joins the bloc of 27. The proposal to lift a veto against a €50 billion aid package for Kiev if it is “broken down” into smaller annual installments appears to be a scheme to extract a prize from Orban for his approval every year. time.

In Sweden, Orban's approach is clear. On Tuesday, the same day that the Turkish Parliament ratified the Scandinavian country’s membership in NATO, Orban revealed via X, formerly Twitter, that he had sent a letter to Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest “to negotiate.” Understandably, the Swedes responded that there was nothing to negotiate. Admission of new members to NATO must be based on calculations of collective security, not blackmail.

“Be careful what you wish for”

However, here we have a classic example of the need to “be careful what you wish for.” First of all, the obstacles Orbán imposes are in fact transactional in nature. It is likely that an agreement or solution will be reached soon for Ukraine, and he said that he would try to persuade the Hungarian parliament to approve Sweden's membership in NATO. This is disingenuous, given the decorative role that the legislature has come to play in Hungary, but it also suggests that this particular problem will be of a somewhat temporary nature.

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But what is more, the EU and NATO do not have a mechanism to expel a member state once it accepts it – nor should they want to create such a mechanism. Orban's flirtation with Moscow and Beijing is disturbing, but it could be a lot worse. Geography plays a role in security calculations, and it would be wise for Hungary to be in our camp rather than outside it.

One reason Orbán's nationalist populism has appealed since he took office in 2010 is the strong sense of loss many Hungarians feel over the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which paralyzed Hungary after its defeat as part of Austria allied with Germany in World War I. The treaty, which also required the country to be demilitarized, was like Versailles in Hungary or worse. It instilled in the Hungarians a mistrust of the great powers responsible for drafting the treaty.

Like Yugoslavia in 1990 or the Soviet Union at the time of its collapse in 1991, Hungary was in effect a multinational empire, with internal borders of limited importance. In Trianon, this empire lost more than two-thirds of its territory. The new borders also left several million Hungarians living outside their newly reduced territorial state, especially in present-day Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine.

National conflicts

It is no coincidence that some of Orbán's most important speeches were not in Hungary, but in the part of Romania he lost in 1920. He neither invaded any country nor called for the “recovery” of former imperial territories, as he did. Vladimir Putin has stood on behalf of Russia, yet Orban has offered protection and citizenship to diaspora Hungarians throughout the wider region, and sees his country extending beyond state borders, wherever Hungarians live. In any case, Hungary's post-communist constitution does the same thing.

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However, Orban's rhetoric has at times made his neighbors nervous. Until Hungary and the rest of Central Europe and the Western Balkans joined the European Union and NATO, there was a distinct possibility of conflict. In Targu Mures, Romania, in March 1990, I witnessed thousands of ethnic Romanians being bussed in from nearby villages to fight Hungarians who had gathered in the city center as unfounded rumors of Hungarian separatist movements spread. A medieval melee involving pitchforks, iron bars and broken pavements ensued, killing five people and wounding hundreds.

Avoiding such a conflict is reason enough for Hungary to remain within the EU and NATO. Likewise, the transatlantic alliance has made war between Turkey and Greece less likely – though not impossible. Both countries were authoritarian regimes when they first joined NATO. So does Portugal.

The irony, of course, is that the best way to ensure Hungarian transnational rights is for Orban to push for greater EU integration, steadily withdrawing both Serbia and Ukraine into the European community and the European market, and reducing the importance of national borders in Europe. Europe. But this very idea seems to have been abandoned. Orban likened Hungary's EU membership to decades of Soviet occupation and defended national sovereignty against Brussels' “interference.”

Access and management

The European Union and NATO must recognize the internal strength of Orban's position in his country. His Trumpian version of nationalism and right-wing cultural populism resonates. Moreover, his country is simply part of Europe economically and security-wise, which is one reason why he himself campaigned to leave either institution.

At the same time, both organizations must draw clear red lines on issues of existential importance to them, including the basic functions of electoral democracy and deterring a vindictive, predatory Russia. Now more people like Viktor Orbán are coming to power in Europe – and perhaps in the United States as well. Orban gained an ally with the return of Robert Fico as prime minister in neighboring Slovakia after the latter's party won elections in September.

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An anti-immigration party won the most votes in the Netherlands in November, while the AfD is leading in some German states, and the European Parliament is expected to get a bigger far-right wing after this year's European elections. As these parties gain power, the fundamental values ​​that the EU and NATO were built to promote and protect after World War II will be at risk. These values ​​must be clearly defined and strictly protected.

Neither the European Union nor NATO should fear punishing Hungary when it crosses these lines. Any attempt by the EU to strip the country of its voice is likely to fail, but the bloc should continue to deprive Orban of billions of euros owed to Hungary in European funds until he effectively repeals legislation that “sterilizes” the Hungarian judiciary.

The Union, as a victim of its own legal framework, has “obfuscated” the issue by releasing about a third of the funds in exchange for compliance with justice reform demands, while withholding funds due to failures in some policy areas that the EU should leave in the EU. hands of nation states.

Likewise, if Orban is undermining NATO security on Russia's behalf, he should be impeached. Hungary's leader will exploit any weakness, but it is a problem that needs management, not a direct solution.

Performance – Editing – Text Selection (2019-2024): J.D. Pavlopoulos