Viktor Orban, the firebrand Hungarian prime minister who is increasingly isolated in the European Union over his “racist” anti-immigration policies, dismantling of rule of law safeguards and opposition to further Russian sanctions, is likely to receive a very warm welcome when he takes the stage at a right-wing annual conservative conference in the US.
Ahead of his address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday, Orban met with former US President Donald Trump, describing him as “our important ally”.
“We are committed to stopping illegal migration, keeping taxes low and, most importantly, we are committed to peace,” he said on Facebook.
His Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, who accompanied him on the trip, added that “Hungarian-US relations were at their peak when Donald Trump was President of the US. Here’s to hoping we will get there once more.”
Trump, who is believed to be gearing up for a second run for the Oval Office, said that the two “discussed many interesting topics — few people know as much about what is going on today.”
“We were also celebrating his great electoral victory in April,” he added.
For Orban, the visit to the US comes after sparking outrage in Europe over comments he delivered during his annual address at the Tusvanyos Summer University in Romania on 30 July. Orban had praised what he called the “unmixed Hungarian race” and denounced countries where European and non-European people intermingle as “no longer nations”.
He defended his stance again last Thursday during a visit to Austria, arguing that “I can sometimes express myself in a way that can be misunderstood” and that his comments were not about racism but about “cultural differences” and preserving the Hungarian culture “as it is now”.
‘Openly racist’ declaration
Leaders of the political groups in the European parliaments nonetheless branded his comments as “openly racist” in a joint statement issued on Saturday.
“Such unacceptable statements, which clearly constitute a breach of our values, also enshrined in the EU Treaties, have no place in our societies.
“We call on the Commission and the Council to condemn urgently this statement in the strongest terms,” they went on.
They demanded that the Commission “treat with priority the ongoing infringement procedures against Hungary’s violation of EU rules prohibiting racism and discrimination and make full use of the tools available to address breaches of values enshrined in Article 2” and “to refrain from the approval of the Hungarian national plan under the Recovery and Resilience Facility until the fulfillment of all relevant criteria.”
After days of silence on the topic, Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission President, eventually told Slovak website aktuality.sk during an interview also released on Saturday that Hungary, like all EU member states “subscribed to global common values” enshrined in European and international Treaties.
“These values are universal and non-negotiable. We all have agreed to uphold and safeguard them,” she said, adding: “To discriminate on the basis of race, is trampling on these values. The European Union is built on equality, tolerance, fairness, and justice.”
She also said that the Commission pays “close attention” to the rule of law in all member states and that “where necessary, we make use of all instruments of available to Commission under EU law to ensure compliance with the rule of law.”
Rule of law mechanism
The EU triggered the Article 7 procedure — the so-called nuclear option– against Hungary in September 2018 but leaders in the Council have not yet voted to determine whether there is “a clear risk of a serious breach” of the EU’s common values, which could see Hungary stripped of its voting right.
The delay has prompted the parliament and the Commission to create a new tool — the rule of law mechanism — to allow for the suspension of EU funds to countries that do not respect the bloc’s values and which the EU’s executive triggered against Hungary and Poland earlier this year.
Since then Hungary has vetoed the implementation of a global corporate tax in the EU, in what is seen as an attempt to force Brussels to approve its recovery plan and unlock billions of euros.
Budapest rejected this accusation, arguing instead that the impact of the war in Ukraine on the economy was such that it was not the time to introduce a new tax. It then rolled out a tax reform targeting small businesses, prompting thousands to pour into the capital in protests for several days.
Orban’s mounting opposition towards sanctions against Russia has also resulted in a cooling of relations with traditional EU allies Poland and Czechia.