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Viktor Orban is the bug of Europe

The European Union has brought numerous benefits to the people of Europe: peace and stability, economic growth, and strong institutions. Out of the ruins of yesterday’s empires, Europe built a prosperous and diverse community of countries united by a shared aspiration for a better communal future. Economic integration with a shared market and common regulations to address the most difficult problems facing Europeans are the proof of the EU’s success.

But no matter how good a system is, it still has its bugs and problems. Security issues, economic disparities and questions of sovereignty have led to the growth of anti-EU movements. Viktor Orban is perhaps the most significant representative of the challenges and problems faced by EU. I can’t believe I am saying it, but Viktor Orban is good news for the EU as it highlights the EU system bugs.

What do you usually do with a bug? You fix it. The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging its existence.

Viktor Orban has been in power in Hungary for 13 years now. In 2010, he promised to bring economic development and prosperity to the country and wealth to its citisens. He delivered. He did it with money the EU allocated to Hungary through its various projects and cohesion programs. Let’s do some maths. Between 2010 and 2020, Hungary received €52 billion, and only contributed €10.5 billion to the EU. During 2021-2027, it is expected that Hungary will get another €22 billion of financial support from the EU.

While focusing on economic developments, Viktor Orban has centralised his power in Hungary; with reports of diminished press freedoms, weaker democratic institutions and attacks on minority rights. Hungarians have received a wealthier life in exchange for the suppression of democratic values in their country.

The European Commission uses this angle to explain why the country will receive less finance from the EU. At the same time, Viktor Orban has made numerous statements attacking the core idea of European integration.

Orban’s power only possible because the European institutions ensured the economic and financial development of Hungary. This is the EU’s paradox: the EU is supporting the country and yet its leadership is actively standing working against the EU and euro integration.

This might stayed an internal problem for the EU. However, Orban has become far too keen on Russian propaganda. In 2022, Hungary tripled its imports from Russia compared to 2021 despite global and EU sanctions against Russia following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, Prime Minister Orban maintains that strengthening economic relations with Russia serves the "national interests of Hungarians."

Regrettably, this economic interdependence comes at a cost of almost €6 billion which Hungary paid to Russia. The average Hungarian will have paid approximately €18 per month to indirectly support Russia's activities in Ukraine. Alarmingly, there are other EU member states that prioritise financial gains over ethical considerations, engaging in increased trade with Russia and inadvertently bolstering Russia's economy. Orban as an embodiment of the populist movement in the EU is only the tip of the iceberg and it is in EU member states’ power to address the issue.

An alliance is a two-way street, where success cannot be achieved without the support and understanding of each party involved. History serves as a testament to this fact. The USSR was one of the two most powerful countries in the world at that time and was the main power of the Warsaw Pact. Yet, it was the only alliance in history which saw partners invade each other.

With his support for Russia, Viktor Orban contributes to Russia’s desire to restore the USSR, the Warsaw Pact and everything that comes with it. While the world has been moving forward, Russia is trying to pull it back. Orban’s personal problem is that even though he studied at Oxford, he appears to have overlooked history.

Orban contributes to Russia’s desire to restore the USSR Quote

The European Union must establish a unified framework for its foreign policy, ensuring a clear stance that reflects a collective interest. Otherwise, it resembles the ancient Aesop's fable "The Swan, the Crab, and the Pike" in which each animal selfishly vies for personal gain, prioritising individual security over the greater common good.

Hungary is constantly on the news for blocking financial aid packages to Ukraine and scandalous remarks about euro integration. Last week Orban compared European integration with Hitler and Nazi Germany. Before that, he was attacking the idea of Ukraine joining NATO.

Orban has been openly blocking aid for Ukraine, and criticising money going to Ukraine. The recent package of €500 million from the European Peace Fund for weapons that EU member states are supplying to Ukraine, is already blocked by Hungary. This is open lobbying for Russia’s interests within the European Union.

It’s not just that the European Union must solve Viktor Orban’s intransigence. The EU must develop a step-by-step policy to save the whole continent from a little dictator. It needs to have a common framework for its foreign policy and instruments that would help to prevent one leader that is blocking the majority’s decisions. I think that such an instrument is likely to appear soon.

Viktor Orban is calling Ukraine a “financially non-existent country.” It is important to remind everyone that Hungary received money from the EU just because it exists. Ukraine is getting its financial assistance from the EU because it is Europe’s shield preventing the Russian army appearing on the streets of Budapest, Warsaw, Tallinn and others.

Russian guarantees and support are always replaced by Russian tanks. Unfortunately, Ukraine must learn this the same hard way Hungary did in 1956. So, the final question is – would Orban meet Russia’s army with flowers if Russian tanks came to Budapest?

Oleksiy Goncharenko

Oleksiy Goncharenko is the MP for Odesa, Ukraine and the founder of the Ukrainian network of educational and cultural centres — the Goncharenko Centre.

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