European elections in Hungary: Orbán’s strategy paid off

, by Anais de La Fonchais

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European elections in Hungary: Orbán's strategy paid off

In Hungary, Fidesz, the national-conservative party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, came out on top with more than 52% of votes in the European elections, thus getting 13 of the 21 seats allocated to Hungary in the European Parliament. New faces of the Hungarian opposition, Orbán’s ambition to make a difference in the reconfiguration of the European right, and uncertainties over his party’s alliance in the plenary chamber: Anais de la Fonchais explains.

Crushing victory for Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz

With 13 seats in the plenary chamber and 52.33% of the votes, the coalition of Fidesz and KDNP won the elections easily, beating the runner-up Democratic Coalition by 36 percentage points. Despite the large demonstrations last December and January, the sovereignist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán comes out of the election stronger.

The opposite would almost have been surprising, as the campaign took place in the context of an authoritarian drift: silenced press, limited political opposition, threatened rule of law, violent anti-Juncker and anti-EU campaigns. The government in place did everything to ensure such a victory, no matter what illiberal methods would be used.

Reconfiguration of Hungarian opposition

On 26 May, 43.4% of Hungarians went to the polling stations to elect their MEPs: an all-time high in participation that exceeds by almost five percentage points the turnout of 38.5% from 2004, the year of Hungary’s entry into the EU. One of the effects of this exceptional mobilisation is the redistribution of cards within the Hungarian opposition.

With 16.2% of the votes, an increase of 6 percentage points from 2014, the Democratic Coalition (DK) of Ferenc Gyurcsány sends four MEPs to the plenary, joining the social democrat group. This result makes it the principal opposition force to Fidesz. Against all expectations, the third place went to the liberal Momentum party. On its first time in the European elections, this new centrist party won 9.9% of the votes, which is enough for two of its candidates to join the ALDE group in the European Parliament.

Magyar Hírlap, a Hungarian right-of-centre daily, says that ‘anti-government voters have given their vote to radical opposition parties, which led to an increase in the popularity of DK and Momentum”. Hungarians turned away from the socialist MSZP, the extreme-right Jobbik and the Green LMP whose opposition to the government is less virulent. These parties emerged as the big losers of the election.

Having hardly got 3% of the votes (5% in 2014), LMP won’t sit in the European Parliament. The socialist MSZP also experienced a big fall, going from 10.9% to 6.7% votes, which only allows them to send one MEP (in 2014, they had two). Finally, Jobbik took a big beating. Going from 14.7% to 6.4% of voters, it lost two of the three seats that it had got in 2014.

Magyar Hírlap highlights the “historic defeat” of Jobbik: while the extreme-right party had until now been popular among young people, it now only got 8% of 18-to-39-year-olds’ votes, whereas Fidesz got a third of their votes, the centrist Momentum 24% and the centre-left DK 9%.

Orbán’s ambition to influence the recomposition of the European right

On election night, the Prime Minister stated that the elections had given him a renewed mandate to contribute to building a different kind of Europe, The Guardian reported. “We are small but we want to change Europe”, he added.

While the EPP lost 44 seats because of a retreat of conservative parties in Spain, Italy, France and Germany, Orbán intends to present himself as a leader and aspires to reorient the European right around his themes: anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism and sovereignism. However, these ambitions are rather unrealistic, considering the weak representation of Fidesz inside the EPP (13 out of 177 seats) and the suspension of Fidesz from the EPP last March, which for an undetermined duration stops Fidesz from participating in deliberations within the EPP, from voting and from presenting candidates for positions of power within the party.

To sit with the EPP or to join Salvini and Le Pen’s supergroup?

‘The elections reinforced us in our objective of putting an end to immigration, preserving Christian culture and strengthening nations. We need to belong to the party family that enables this programme to be carried out’, explains József Szájer, an MEP for Fidesz. But what will that family be? The EPP, or Europe of Nations and Freedoms, led by the Italian Matteo Salvini and the French Marine Le Pen?

Salvini and Le Pen are doubling down on their nudges so that Orbán would join their “supergroup” project bringing together nationalist and extreme-right forces inside the European Parliament. Their goal is, according to the French paper Marianne, to turn ENF into ‘a kind of nationalist international’. Nonetheless, the Hungarian Prime Minister remains sceptical, particularly because of the economic differences he has with Marine Le Pen: while the latter promotes protectionism, Orbán is a defender of liberalism.

The Hungarian Prime Minister would prefer an alliance between the EPP and extreme-right parties. ‘Let’s not attach ourselves to the left, let us seek another way, that of cooperation with the European right’, he says on the Italian La Stampa. ‘We don’t know what kind of a formation Salvini will build but let’s hope that he will succeed at creating a strong one. The EPP needs to cooperate with this European right.’

Do the other members of the EPP share this view? Nothing is less certain. To try to put pressure, ‘the Hungarian executive made it clear last week that Fidesz would refuse to sit with the EPP if they don’t ally themselves with “patriotic parties of the right”’, the French La Croix reports. This prospect of a departure is not considered credible by France Inter which says that Orbán and the EPP each have an interest in having Fidesz stay inside the EPP, which ‘leads one to think that we’re not necessarily rushing towards a divorce’.

While the new European Parliament will begin on 2 July, the month of June will be one of negotiations for forming the future political groups. So will Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz stay within the EPP? Time will tell.

This article was originally published on our French sister edition Le Taurillon.

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