The promise to move swiftly against international NGOs highlighted the growing EU divisions over Viktor Orban, the controversial Hungarian prime minister, who has repeatedly attacked Brussels for its handling of the 2015 refugee crisis and the imposition of mandatory migrant quotas.
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 134-seat ‘supermajority’ in Hungary’s 199-seat assembly, opening the door to the so-called “Stop Soros” laws named after George Soros, the billionaire liberal philanthropist, who was targeted in the campaign. The laws are aimed at curbing foreign funding of NGOs.
"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 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in a preliminary report on the election.
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 campaing “vile”, attacking Manfred Weber, the head of the conservative EPP grouping, for offering congratulations to Mr Orban.
Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn warned that unless big EU countries like France and Germany did more to confront Mr Orban it was storing up trouble for 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 foreign secretary, sent “congratulations” adding that the UK looked forward to “working with our Hungarian friends”.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Germany 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, the Commission president, was scheduled to call Mr Orban while noting that the EU was a “union of democracies” whose values needed to defended by all member states “without exception”, his spokesman said.
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 little choice but to work with Mr Orban, even though his increasingly autocratic approach to government was undermining attempts to reunite the EU club after Brexit.
The strong showing of populist parties in last month’s Italian elections and Poland’s hardline conservative government would provide further a drag on the project, added Mujtaba Rahman, the head of practice at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.
“This result is a big negative for Macron and Merkel’s desire to reform Europe and heal tensions between the West and East Europeans,” he said. “Alongside Poland and Italy, there are now three very significant anti-establishment players at the EU’s top table.”
("Telegraph", 09.04.2018, by Peter Foster and Balazs Csekö)
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