With ‘Make Europe Great Again,’ Hungary taunts allies, touts hard right


BRUSSELS — Hungary has spent the past few years railing against the European Union. For the next six months, Hungary will help lead it — and it’s set to be a wild and revealing ride.

On July 1, Hungary, the E.U.’s disruptor-in-chief, takes up the rotating presidency of the Council of the E.U., a job that shapes the E.U. agenda but rarely makes headlines beyond sleepy Brussels.

But the country’s slogan for its stint — ‘Make Europe Great Again’ — suggests Hungary plans to make the most of its turn at the E.U. microphone, likely by taunting E.U. allies and talking up a resurgent right.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes center stage at a moment when the success of hard- and far-right parties in recent elections has shaken Europe’s establishment and the world is mulling the possible return of a different populist firebrand, former president Donald Trump.

In France, a strong showing from Marine Le Pen’s far-right party led President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve Parliament and call snap elections that have thrown a key E.U. power into political chaos. Germany, meanwhile, is reeling over the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany, a party the country’s domestic intelligence service considers extreme.

Orban has strong ties to Trump’s political movement and is using this moment to send a message to far-right figures on both sides of the Atlantic: We are in this together and on the rise.

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“National conservative, sovereignist and Christian forces are on the rise all across Europe,” he wrote on X this spring. “We are the worst nightmare of the #Brussels bureaucrats.”

“#MakeEuropeGreatAgain,” he added, “#MEGA” — a play on Make America Great Again, minus (for now) the red caps.

Orban and the E.U. have been feuding for years, but he is particularly unpopular in Brussels right now because he’s held up financial support for Ukraine and appeared to use the issue as leverage in his quest to get the union to unblock billions in funding frozen over concerns about Hungarian democracy.

Daniel Freund, a German member of the European Parliament who is a vocal critic of Orban, recently wrote a letter calling for the suspension of the Hungarian presidency on these grounds. “It is time the EU stands up against the bullying of a government that clearly has issues subscribing to the most basic of our European principles and values,” he wrote.

“Hungary in its current state would never pass the accession criteria to join the EU,” the letter continued. “Its criminal leadership should therefore not be allowed to represent the Union.”

But the presidency is going ahead. And, over the next six months, Hungary will need to find a balance between lambasting the E.U. and using it to promote its interests.

Hungarian diplomats in Brussels have set out an agenda that sounds relatively mainstream: curbing migration, improving E.U. competitiveness and bolstering European defense. But Orban and close allies seem to see the next six months as an opportunity to troll Brussels, particularly with support dipping at home.

In a briefing on the Hungarian presidency, Zoltan Kovacks, an Orban spokesman, said the goal was “change in Brussels.” However, E.U.-watchers are skeptical about how much Hungary will actually be able to do, because of the nature both of the job and of this particular political moment.

The rotating presidency of the Council of the E.U. requires countries to put aside their national interest and serve as E.U.-level conveners, setting and shaping the agenda. Hungary is stepping in just after the European Parliament elections, at a moment when E.U. officials and diplomats are more focused on securing new jobs than working on big files.

In recent years, Hungary has been a persistent E.U. holdout, most notably by slowing efforts to help Ukraine and thwart Russia. Member states have pushed ahead in seeking to prevent disruption, open accession talks — with Ukraine and Moldova, for instance — and approve more military aid for Ukraine.

“Even if Hungary wanted to block things or to orientate discussions in one way or the other, there won’t be that many legislative fights to conclude,” said Eric Maurice, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank.

Instead, expect Hungary to focus on rhetorical wins, MAGA (or MEGA?) style. “The biggest challenge over the next six months will be to separate noise from actual impact,” said Zselyke Csaky, senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank, “because I expect a lot of noise.”



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