Orbán Divides Austria & Europe

The Hungarian Prime Minister wants to build a European right-wing alliance. Austria’s Vice-Chancellor H.C. Strache is one of his strongest supporters, ruffling feathers at home.

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán continues to cause controversy in the run-up to the continent-wide European elections on May 23-26, and a headache for the governing coalition, which is increasingly divided in its response. On March 20, the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament suspended Orbán’s Fidesz party over its defiance of EU policies. The party is now being assessed for a breach of the center-right bloc’s values.

Orbán’s immediate reaction was muted. But on May 6, he used a press conference with Austria’s vice-chancellor H.C. Strache (FPÖ) in Budapest to announce that his Fidesz party will not be supporting the EPP’s lead candidate Manfred Weber for President of the European Commission. This aggressive move follows a meeting on May 2 with Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini of the far-right Lega party, where both politicians agreed on “the importance of strong nation states, on the need to give priority in Europe to European culture based on Christian values, and on border defense.”

While Orbán’s Fidesz party is nominally still part of the conservative EPP, many see his recent activities as moves to build an alliance of far-right parties across Europe. In an interview with the Austrian daily Kleine Zeitung on May 5, Orbán praised the current Austrian center-right coalition government, saying, “Europe should follow the Austrian model.” But what may sound like a welcome endorsement for the government actually deepens domestic fault lines: Austria’s conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) is at pains to tread the official EPP line and distinguish his brand of center-right politics from Fidesz’ increasingly far-right credentials; at the same time, right-wing coalition partner FPÖ under Vice Chancellor H.C. Strache embraces Orbán both rhetorically and in deeds.

This is a headache for Kurz, who would prefer to have his cake and eat it too. On May 9, he said there was a need for ambitious EU reform – usually a topic for pro-Europeans – yet decried on May 12 that Brussels was overly “patronizing” and should “interfere less in people’s lives,” thus copying the talking points of many populists.

Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history.Photo: Visual Hub

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