Hungary takes over the EU’s rotating presidency 

Hungary will take over the EU’s rotating presidency today and has pledged to be an “honest broker”, despite concerns about its perceived authoritarian and Russia-friendly government. 

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has led Hungary since 2010 with a vision of creating an “illiberal democracy,” frequently clashes with Brussels over rule-of-law and human rights issues. 

Orbán is notably the only EU leader maintaining ties with Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine, having refused to send arms to Kyiv and consistently criticising sanctions against Moscow.

The European Parliament has questioned Hungary’s ability to lead the EU. Last year, it adopted a non-binding resolution highlighting Hungary’s “backsliding” on democratic values and questioning its credibility in assuming the bloc’s six-month presidency. 

Nevertheless, Budapest insists it is ready to fulfil its duties. Hungary’s presidency slogan, “Make Europe Great Again,” which echoes the rallying cry of Orbán’s “good friend” former US President Donald Trump, has already caused a stir in Brussels.

Orbán’s Fidesz party remains isolated in the European Parliament, struggling to align with any existing groups. Recently, Orbán announced plans to form a new group with Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the centrist ANO party of former Czech premier Andrej Babiš. 

However, they need parties from at least four other countries to join them. Despite this, Orbán remains determined, having vowed to “occupy Brussels” during the campaign for European elections in early June, banking on a right-wing breakthrough.

In his previous tenure holding the EU presidency in 2011, Orbán boasted about his confrontational approach towards the European Parliament. This time, his stance is even more combative. 

Orbán’s government has outlined seven priorities for its EU presidency, including stemming “illegal migration” and bringing the Western Balkans countries “one step closer” to EU membership. However, Orbán cannot achieve results without the European Commission’s support, according to Daniel Hegedus, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

Orbán has called for peace negotiations in Ukraine and opposed sanctions against Russia. His government has also restricted asylum rights and faced EU fines for failing to follow asylum laws. Under his “eastern opening” policy, Orbán has sought closer ties with China and continues to rail against immigration, defending what he calls a “Christian Europe.”

The EU has launched multiple infringement proceedings against Hungary, including for laws restricting LGBTQ rights and the establishment of an agency to curb foreign influence. The European Parliament also voted to trigger an “Article 7” disciplinary procedure against Hungary in 2018, which could result in the country losing its voting rights in EU proceedings. 

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