Hungary taunts allies as it takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union

BRUSSELS – Hungary has been fighting against the European Union for the past few years. For the next six months, Hungary will help lead it – and it’s set to be a wild and open ride.

On July 1, the EU’s disruptive leadership, Hungary, takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, which shapes the EU agenda but rarely makes headlines beyond sleepy Brussels.

But given the country’s slogan – ‘Make Europe Great Again’ – Hungary plans to make the most of its turn by using the EU microphone, mocking EU allies and talking up a right to resurgence.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has taken center stage at a moment when hardline and far-right parties’ victories in recent elections have shaken Europe’s establishment, and the world is wondering if a different kind of populist firebrand, former President Donald Trump, might make a comeback.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament and called snap elections due to a strong showing by Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, throwing a key EU power into political turmoil. Germany, meanwhile, is reeling from the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which the country’s domestic intelligence considers radical.

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

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“National conservative, sovereignist and Christian forces are on the rise across Europe” He wrote in X This spring. “We are #Brussels bureaucracy’s worst nightmare.”

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

Orban and the EU have been at loggerheads for years, but he is currently unpopular in Brussels because he has not provided financial aid to Ukraine. It seemed to use the issue as leverage In his quest to strip the union of billions in funding that has been frozen by concerns about Hungarian democracy.

Daniel Freund, a German member of the European Parliament who is a staunch critic of Orban, wrote recently Letter of Suspension of the Hungarian Presidency Based on this. “It is time for the EU to stand up to the bullying of a government that clearly has problems subscribing to the most fundamental principles of our European principles and values,” he wrote.

“Hungary in its current state will never fulfill the conditions for joining the EU,” the letter continued. “Its criminal leadership should not be allowed to represent the union.”

But the presidency goes on. And, in the next six months, Hungary will have to find a balance between blaming the EU and leveraging its interests to promote it.

Hungarian diplomats in Brussels have set out an agenda that sounds relatively mainstream: curbing migration, improving EU competitiveness and improving European security. But Orban and close allies see the next six months as an opportunity to troll Brussels, in particular Home tipping support.

At a briefing on the Hungarian presidency, Orbán spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said “change in Brussels”. However, due to the nature of the work and the nature of this particular political moment, EU-watchers are skeptical about how much Hungary can actually do.

The rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union requires countries to set aside their national interest and act as EU-wide convenors, setting and shaping the agenda. Hungary steps in after European Parliament elections at a moment when EU officials and diplomats are more focused on securing new jobs than working on large files.

In recent years, Hungary has continued to be under EU control, notably by slowing efforts to help Ukraine and counter Russia. With Ukraine and Moldova, member states have made progress in authorizing open access talks — and more military aid to Ukraine — to prevent disruptions.

“Even if Hungary wants to block things or hold discussions one way or the other, there won’t be many legislative fights to come to an end,” said Eric Maris. Policy analyst at the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank.

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

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