Thursday 17 January 2019

Hungary's ruling party to use new majority to curb refugee groups

A supporter of the Hungarian Socialist Party-Dialogue for Hungary reacts while watching election results at party headquarters in Budapest on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
A supporter of the Hungarian Socialist Party-Dialogue for Hungary reacts while watching election results at party headquarters in Budapest on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

Peter Foster and Balazs Cseko in Budapest

Hungary's ruling Fidesz party will look to capitalise on a crushing election victory last weekend by enacting new laws to curb the rights of civic groups that support refugees, senior party figures said yesterday.

The promise to move swiftly against international NGOs highlighted the growing EU divisions over Viktor Orban, the prime minister, who has repeatedly attacked Brussels for its handling of the 2015 refugee crisis and the imposition of mandatory migrant quotas.

Victor Orban. Photo: Getty Images
Victor Orban. Photo: Getty Images

As Mr Orban promised to push ahead with reforms, his campaign was criticised as "xenophobic" by official international election monitors yesterday after Mr Orban demonised refugees as "Muslim invaders" and warned of a Jewish conspiracy to dilute Hungary's Christian identity.

The final vote count confirmed Mr Orban had won a 144-seat 'supermajority' in Hungary's 199-seat assembly, opening the door to the so-called Stop Soros laws aimed at curbing groups funded by George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist.

"Voters had a wide range of political options, but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate," said the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Confirmation of 54-year-old Mr Orban's third term in office drew sharply divided responses across Europe where the Hungarian prime minister is seen in some quarters as a serious threat to liberal democracy.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, called Mr Orban's campaign "vile", attacking Manfred Weber, the head of the conservative EPP grouping, for offering congratulations to Mr Orban.

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister, warned that unless big EU countries like France and Germany did more to confront Mr Orban, the bloc faced trouble in the future.

"Today it is Hungary and Poland, tomorrow others in eastern and central Europe, even a big founding country of the EU, could develop a taste for undermining values and scaremongering," he said.

But despite widespread misgivings about Mr Orban's growing capture of the Hungarian state through media ownership and other changes to the law, the Hungarian leader's victory was acknowledged by the major western EU powers.

Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, sent "congratulations" adding that the UK looked forward to "working with our Hungarian friends".

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said her nation would be a "reliable partner" to Hungary, despite differences on migration, a spokesman said.

France said it would continue to pursue "political dialogue in the service of the European project and its values".

The European Commission was more guarded. Jean-Claude Juncker, its president, was scheduled to call Mr Orban while noting that the EU was a "union of democracies" whose values needed to be defended by all member states "without exception".

Populist leaders across Europe hailed Mr Orban's victory, including France's Marine Le Pen, Italy's Matteo Salvini, the Netherlands' Geert Wilders and Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, who said the Hungarian leader was the "EU's biggest nightmare".

Regional analysts said that EU leaders had to work with Mr Orban, even though his increasingly autocratic approach was undermining attempts to reunite the EU club after Brexit.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News