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Orban’s New Pan-European Far Right Alliance: An Assessment

Dr Swasti Rao is Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 05, 2024

    Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a new alliance of the far right, ‘Patriots for Europe’ at the European Parliament on 30 June 2024 with key features being anti-immigration and Euro-scepticism.1 The three founding partners are Orban’s Fidesz from Hungary, Andrej Babis’s Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) Movement party from Czechia and Herbert Kickl’s Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) from Austria. This alliance has been touted as a new group of the far right, in addition to the two existing groups—European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID).2 Orban has stated that ‘Patriots for Europe’ will not be joining the existing groups but would strive to become a third group by attracting more partners from across Europe. The timing of this announcement is crucial as Hungary took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2024 for a period of six months.

    This action by Orban has domestic as well as Europe-wide implications. Fidesz has been in power in Hungary since 2010, but has recorded its worst-ever performance in the recently held European parliament elections showing a wave of anti-incumbency sweeping the country.3 His opponent, Peter Magyar and his party Tisza secured about 30 per cent of the total vote, while Orban and his allies secured about 44 per cent of the votes. Even though Fidesz got more net votes than Tisza, the result is noteworthy because it is rare for the former to have won less than 50 per cent of the vote in the last decade. Further, it is equally rare for an opposition party to consolidate its vote share against Fidesz in the European Parliament elections in a way that has been achieved by Tisza in 2024.4

    Fidesz will get 11 while Tisza would get 7 of the 21 seats allotted to Hungary at the European Parliament.

    Given the above context, the formation of the new far right group with two more European partners and a promise to attract additional partners is perhaps directed at weakening the narrative of anti-incumbency among his domestic audience. However, at the EU-wide level, this can be seen as an expression of striving for a larger role coinciding with Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the EU.

    Lingering Tensions between Hungary and Brussels

    Hungary’s tensions with the EU can be traced back to 2010 since the adoption of its new constitution.5 The tensions started becoming more evident around 2012 as the European Commission started expressing concerns over those amendments that undermined the democratic ethos of the country.6 In later years, the EU launched its infringement proceedings against Hungary, which was pursued at the European Court of Justice marking a low-point in relations.7 Tensions over rule of law issues and government’s tightened controls over the judiciary and media have remained an irritant ever since.8

    For Hungary, this long-standing clash with the EU has resulted in 32 billion euros worth of frozen funds out of which 10 billion euros are stuck under Hungary’s COVID-19 recovery programme and approximately 22 billion euros are stuck in regular EU structural funds. Recently, the EU released about 10 billion euros after Hungary made progress on issues relating to independence of the judiciary, but the other 22 billion euros are still stuck.9

    This issue has been at the heart of Budapest–Brussels tensions and has seen Hungary pivoting away to Chinese investments.10 For the record, while China’s overall investments in Europe are falling, its investments in Hungary are on a spectacular rise.11 Among the EU-member states, President Xi Jinping chose Hungary, besides France, for his recent trip to Europe. Xi encapsulated the thriving bilateral relationship as the beginning of a ‘golden voyage’.12

    Orban meanwhile visited Kyiv on 2 July 2024 to reportedly ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to agree to a ceasefire.13 Orban’s self-projection as a pro-peace, pro-negotiation leader at a time when the rest of the EU is united behind Ukraine is aimed at creating a contrast between him and the rest. Even if there are few takers of this endeavour inside the bloc, Orban’s position as a pro-peace leader is welcomed by Russia and China.

    Being a conservative party, Fidesz has always been pro-Russia like others from the far right spectrum in Europe.14 However, while mainstream far right icons like Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy or Marine Le Pen’s National Rally have changed their posture after Russia’s war in Ukraine, Orban’s Fidesz has remained pro-Russia due to the ongoing spat with Brussels. Hungary has blocked and delayed Europe’s aid to Ukraine and has opposed Kyiv’s accession into the EU and the NATO multiple times since the war broke out.15

    Orban has effectively deployed his friendly relations with Russia and China to offset his isolation within the European bloc. This tension could have had graver implications for the day-to-day working of the Council of the EU if the timing was different. With the putting in place a new EU Commission being the top most agenda, there is likely to be a limbo in other areas.

    Besides, the rotating presidency of the EU operates on the principle of ‘presidency troika’ that sets the agenda for 18 months with three members partaking in it every six months. The current troika is made up of Spain (July–December 2023), Belgium (January–June 2024) and Hungary (July–December 2024). In such a scenario, a sudden shift from the set agenda seems unlikely. The process to a new Commission would keep the European policy-makers busy until the end of 2024 which would coincide with the end of Hungary’s stint at the presidency.

    Future of a United Far Right Front in the European Parliament

    The rise of the far right is visible and ubiquitous across European member states as the Centrist groups in the European Parliament have not been able to keep them at the fringes anymore. It is the first time in European history that at least six countries have a far right government.  This comes alongside the scintillating win of Geert Wilders, who recently struck a deal to form the most Right-wing government in Dutch history.16 The next in line is Europe’s second biggest economy France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is set for a historic win in the snap elections whose results would be declared on 7 July 2024.

    Despite stellar success by the far right, the centrist group has been able to come back at the helm by projecting a united front and winning only a few seats less than their performance in 2019.It is evident that the far right bloc has not been able to convert its electoral successes into pushing forth a joint front due to their own irreconcilable differences on key issues like European security, Ukraine War, approach to Russia and China.17 These differences remain despite their united stand on anti-immigration.

    It is important to note that each EU member state has a proportional number of MEP seats depending on its population. Germany, at 96, and France, at 81, have the largest number of seats. Smaller European countries have only six seats each. Hungary, for the record has, 21 seats (out of which only 11 are held by Fidesz currently). Czechia and Austria have 20 and 21 respectively, out of which Czech ANO has 7 seats18 and Austria’s FPO has 6 seats. Hungary’s Fidesz was a part of the centre right EPP before it was expelled in 2019 over tensions with Brussels. Czech ANO so far has been with the Identity and Democracy group, and Austria’s AFO is independent. 

    Fidesz, ANO and FPO currently have 24 seats in the European Parliament. This number is too insignificant to run solo because according to EU law, the tri-partite alliance would require at least four more EU countries’ far right leaders to successfully form a group in the new parliament.  Secondly, even if four more countries’ leaders joined the alliance, they would still have little leverage to alter EU-wide politics unless they joined hands with either of the dominant blocs. In the short term, and as long as the war in Ukraine is stretching on, this looks unlikely due to their mutual differences.

    However, if Fidesz is able to co-opt more like-minded far right parties that are not yet a part of any group, his endeavour might be able to garner more traction by the time European parliament enters next elections in 2030. Part of that will also be decided by the fate of the Ukraine war and its impact on European politics and economy at large. From Orban’s perspective, it shows his willingness to play the long game given that the rise of the far right will inevitably alter the European neo-liberal vision going forward.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.