May 18. 2024. 4:19

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Orbán’s pointless isolation

In this edition, we look at the implications of Hungary’s refusal to ratify Sweden’s NATO application and its exclusion for President Biden’s latest democracy summit.

Editor’s Take: Orbán’s pointless isolation

After four years of diplomatic isolationism under Donald Trump’s presidency, his successor Joe Biden has re-opened American eyes to the rest of the world.

A case in point is the second US-hosted Summit for Democracy in Washington this week. The EU is the only international organisation to be welcomed, along with 26 of its 27 member states, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is a co-host.

Few will be surprised that the odd one out is Hungary.

US officials have explained that the snub, which was also afforded to Turkey, is because of ‘democratic backsliding’.

“We are not seeking to define which countries are and aren’t democracies,” a State Department official briefed reporters this week. The fact that 120 states have been invited, and they don’t include Hungary, tells its own story.

The impact of the Biden administration’s democracy summits is unclear. Summits don’t achieve anything in isolation and no binding commitments will come out of the three-day event.

However, the response of Viktor Orbán’s government to similar snubs in the past has been to dig deeper into its bunker. In the meantime, the gap between Hungary and its neighbours and supposed allies continues to grow.

The Hungarian parliament finally ratified Finland’s application to join NATO last week, after eight months of stalling for no particular reason. It continues to delay Sweden’s bid on the bizarre grounds of Stockholm’s “daunting attitude and former derogatory comments toward Hungary”, according to Orbán’s spokesperson Zoltán Kovács.

It’s not clear what that means.

Dig a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that the Orbán government’s real gripe with Sweden is that its ministers are among the group who have called for EU recovery funds to be withheld from Hungary because of corruption and rule of law breaches.

The Orbán government is not alone in having disputes with the European Commission about the rule of law and access to funding.

This morning Spain, Greece, and Malta were hauled across the coals in the European Parliament over their own records on judicial independence, media freedom, graft, and the rule of law. Where the Hungarian government is unique is in its rejection of the international organisations that it is a member and major beneficiary of.

Orbán’s Fidesz party may calculate that international isolation plays well at home but in the medium-term, there are no beneficiaries from Hungary being on the ‘naughty step’, even if it is a position that its ministers often give the impression of embracing.

Diplomats in Brussels tell journalists that Hungary’s needless delay on the Finnish and Swedish NATO applications, made following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have done lasting damage to Budapest’s reputation.

The question is how long the EU and NATO will continue to tolerate an increasingly unreliable ally. At some point, Budapest’s isolation will have to end, or it really will find itself alone.

Who’s electioneering?

Finns will elect a new parliament on Sunday (2 April). According to Europe Elects, the centre-right party Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition) is leading the polls with 20.6%. Two parties vie for second place – the centre-left Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue (socialist party) with 19.6%, and the right-wing Perussuomalaiset (Finns Party) with 19.3%.

Fifth attempt for Bulgaria. Bulgarians will vote on 2 April for the fifth general election in two years, but the odds of forming a stable government after that are not high, raising the prospect of more government crisis in the poorest EU country.


UK deputy PM: Nothing off the table to cut costs of asylum seeker housing. Nothing is off the table regarding limiting and reducing the use of hotels to house asylum seekers, which reportedly costs over £6 million daily, said Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Wednesday.

Swiss women bring European court’s first climate case. Thousands of Swiss women have joined forces in a groundbreaking case heard on Wednesday (29 March) at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that their government’s “woefully inadequate” efforts to fight global warming violate their human rights.

Cocaine trade expanding rapidly in Europe, especially France. While the cocaine market continues to grow around the world, a new report by the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT) found that consumption has been steadily increasing across Europe and especially in France.

Far-right says Zelenskyy’s parliament invite risks Austrian neutrality. Austria’s far-right FPÖ party criticised the invitation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will speak in the Austrian parliament for the first time via video on Thursday, calling it an ‘attack on Austria’s neutrality’.

EU lawmakers won’t debate police violence in France. French left-wing delegations in the European Parliament sought to open a debate on police violence and the “repression” of demonstrations in France, but without success, as EU lawmakers refused to address purely national issues.

Polish PM demands EU action over cheap Ukrainian grain influx. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will send a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calling for immediate steps to remedy Polish farmers’ problems since the EU allowed cheap grain imports from Ukraine.

Inside the institutions

UN rights mission blasts EU on Libya migrant abuses. European Union backing for Libyan authorities who stop and detain migrants means the bloc has “aided and abetted” rights violations against migrants, an investigator for a UN mission said on Monday (27 March).

EU strikes deal on renewable energy law, agrees 42.5% target by 2030. Agreement on the EU’s renewable energy directive brings to a close an 18-month process to upgrade the bloc’s climate policies and achieve a 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

MEPs approve anti-money laundering authority, what’s next? This week on the Beyond the Byline podcast, we look at the anti-money laundering and terrorism financing reform approved by the European Parliament.

Switzerland eyes return to EU talks. Switzerland signalled readiness on Wednesday (29 March) to resume talks with the EU towards a cooperation agreement, after shocking its largest trading partner in 2021 by suddenly cutting short years of negotiations.

With strict targets looming, European aviation races to make green fuel. Energy giant Repsol has bought into Europe’s drive for green jet fuel but believes the €200 million plant it is building in southeast Spain faces a bumpier ride than if it was on the other side of the Atlantic.

Malicious links still on EU Commission website as hackers change tactics. A security company flagged to the European Commission that cybercriminals used its official website to spread hundreds of malicious links. Twenty days on, the EU executive is still struggling to regain a firm grip on the situation.

What we are reading

  • Britons have more confidence in EU than Westminster, poll finds, writes Robert Booth for The Guardian
  • Biden’s ‘democracy summit’ poses questions for EU identity writes Jaap Hoeksma for EU Observer
  • Mexico Investigates Migrant Deaths in Border City Fire as Homicide Case, The New York Times reports

The next week in politics

  • The EU institutions will take a break for Easter. It is a ‘Green Week’ meaning EU lawmakers are away from Brussels. No meetings until 18 April are due at the Council of Ministers.

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