Viktor Orban in Pivotal Role: Even Critics May Need Hungary's PM

For Hungary, in addition to chairing Council meetings, taking over the presidency would also mean playing a central role, together with the Parliament, in forming the new Commission, which will take place in the autumn, an analyst told Magyar Nemzet. The expert reacted to news confirmed to Belgian newspapers that European Council President Charles Michel has decided to run in the EP elections. The announcement has triggered speculations about the fate of Ursula von der Leyen, Viktor Orban and the EU in general in the coming period.

2024. 01. 09. 16:47
ORBÁN Viktor
Brüsszel, 2023. október 27. A Miniszterelnöki Sajtóiroda által közreadott képen Orbán Viktor miniszterelnök érkezik az Európai Unió állam- és kormányfõinek kétnapos brüsszeli csúcstalálkozójára a második napon, 2023. október 27-én. MTI/Miniszterelnöki Sajtóiroda/Benko Vivien Cher Fotó: Benko Vivien Cher
Vélemény hírlevélJobban mondva- heti vélemény hírlevél - ahol a hét kiemelt témáihoz füzött személyes gondolatok összeérnek, részletek itt.

Brussels leaders have repeatedly expressed concerns over Hungary's family policy 

With Charles Michel stepping down, the European Union (EU) landscape could turn extremely complex. 

For Hungary, in addition to chairing Council meetings, taking over the presidency would also mean playing a central role, together with the Parliament, in forming the new Commission, which will take place in the autumn,

said Fanni Lajko, an analyst at the Center for Fundamental Rights, in response to an inquiry from Magyar Nemzet. The president of the EU Council has a political role, heading and steering the institution and performing various representative functions. He provides a kind of impetus to the functioning of the European Council, she added.

The expert ruled out any speculation regarding changes to the rules of procedure. She stressed that "there has never been a situation where a prime minister of a member state has taken over the role of the president of the European Council because no decision could be made on who is to hold the mandate". However, the extent to which Viktor Orban's strengthening position will allow him to use the EU playing field, for example to increase family support, remains a question.

Brussels leaders have repeatedly expressed concerns over Hungary's family policy and no other member state supports families to such an extent,

she stressed, adding that there is also a possibility that they would not accept Viktor Orban's proposals out of defiance, as  the leftist-liberal camp, which remains overwhelmingly dominant, will reject anything related to Hungary. Of course, the level of dominance will depend on the reshuffle triggered by the June EP elections and in this regard, the conservative forces have reason to be optimistic.

"Recent analyses show that support for right-wing and center-right European party families, such as the EPP or IDR, will grow, while left-liberals and greens will see their support decline," the analyst underlined.

Viktor Orban in very strong position, even his critics may need him

Charles Michel's term as president will officially expire on November 30, but if he is elected to the European Parliament, he will have to leave office after being sworn in. Under the current  rules of procedure, in the absence of a permanent president, the president of the European Council is replaced by the head of the member state holding the six-month rotating Council presidency until a successor is elected.

In other words, at that time in 2024, the head of the member state holding the rotating presidency of the Council is Hungarian Prime Minister  Viktor Orban.

Whether or not this situation arises, Viktor Orban will be in a very strong position. If they want to swiftly find a successor to Charles Michel, they may still need a centrist, moderate right-wing bloc to gain Viktor Orban's approval for the new president.

Some have their own interest in maintaining good relations with Viktor Orban. Among them is outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who may need the Hungarian premier if he is truly eyeing the post of NATO Secretary General.

Life vest for Von der Leyen? The lesser of evils principle...

Normally, Michel would have stayed in his post until the end of November when the new College of Commissioners is installed. The current scenario means that the wheeling and dealing for top positions that always takes place after the EU elections every five years, will now be more intense. 

Politico reported that after the EP elections, European leaders are scheduled to meet on June 17 and then June 27-28. It is expected that at these summits efforts will be ramped up to find a replacement for the vacant position more rapidly than usual.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as a known leading figure, may even benefit from the intense political bargaining. It would not be the first time that a president, in the spirit of the so-called "lesser evil", ends up heading the Commission. In the current set-up, von der Leyen has no choice but to make conciliatory gestures of proposing Manfred Weber, president of the People's Party, be Spitzenkandidat.

The Spitzenkandidat is a leading politician chosen by the various European party families ahead of the European Parliament elections, who runs for the post of Commission president as leader of their respective party. The concept of Spitzenkandidat was first used in the 2014 European Parliament elections.

Naturally, if the right-wing can gain significant strength in Brussels in the elections, they could even put pressure on the EPP from a better bargaining position in choosing a Spitzenkandidate. 

Belated attempts to thwart Hungarian EU Presidency

Brussels has long wondered how to handle the upcoming elections and Hungarian EU Presidency. One approach has been to launch a full-blown attack on Hungary. The European Parliament took guidance from the Dutch Meijers Commission on how to derail the Hungarian presidency. Three main proposals were outlined:

1. Limit the powers of the Hungarian presidency (the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian trio were to have agreed on this)
2. Switching the order of countries in the rotating presidency
3. The European Parliament adopting a resolution setting out the conditions of excluding a member state from holding the presidency. 

The EP has of course prepared the resolution under the auspices of the Hungarian-phobic MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield. The resolution stressed that Hungary was unfit to hold the EU Presidency, mainly for concerns about the rule of law.

However, EP resolutions have no direct legislative effect, i.e. they do not establish new laws. Rather, they are political messages or recommendations.

The all-out offensive has failed, as Zoltan Gyevai pointed out in his "A man from afar" podcast on the Hungarian edition of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He underlined that 

the attackers of the Hungarian presidency missed the boat, and there is no united action to prevent Hungary's EU presidency.

The other approach has been, and continues to be, that Brussels rapidly pushes through files favored by the current leadership. This was recently so eloquent put when Ursula von der Leyen expressed her confidence in the actions of the Belgian presidency with the word "sprinting", when noting how she expected "many projects to finish" in that period. 

Cover photo: Prime Minister Viktor Orban arriving at the two-day European Council summit in Brussels, October 27, 2023 (Photo: MTI/Prime Minister's Press Office/Vivien Cher Benko)

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