Orbán rejects the European Union’s migration agreement and defends keeping asylum seekers out of EU territory

Hungary’s prime minister says that Brussels is ‘blackmailing’ his country and calls for the release of all funds frozen because of concerns about the rule of law under the far-right leader

Orbán at his annual press conference this Thursday in Budapest.MARTON MONUS (REUTERS)
Gloria Rodríguez-Pina

After years of negotiations, this Wednesday the European Union concluded a migration pact that tightens the conditions for receiving migrants. The agreement is binding for all member states, including Hungary, one of the members with the most extreme positions on migration and asylum. Ultra-conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán controversially compared the agreement on the forced relocation of migrants with a “legal rape” of his country and Poland, which opposed the pact. On Thursday, he railed against the new regulatory package and defended his own formula for asylum seekers to remain outside European territory until their applications are resolved.

Human rights organizations in Hungary charge that the Orbán government has effectively suppressed the right to asylum in the country. The Hungarian leader’s xenophobic policies, which made headlines for the inhumane treatment of migrants during the 2015 refugee crisis, have led to clashes with Brussels, as have his attempts to criminalize refugee aid organizations. In a press conference, his fifth in recent years, Orbán said that “the basis of the migration package is flawed.” He noted that “we had a big debate on this last year, and I spent hours trying to explain it.”

Anyone who enters the country is immediately sent back to wherever he or she came from. To obtain refugee status in Hungary, applicants, regardless of their origin, must apply at two Hungarian consulates abroad: in Kyiv (Ukraine) and in Belgrade (Serbia). The Russian invasion of its neighboring country makes the Serbian capital the only option, but according to organizations like the Helsinki Committee, the number of applications being handled there can be counted on one hand. “The only way to stop migration is for anyone who wants to enter the EU to stay out of it until the relevant decision is made. No other solution will achieve the desired result,” the prime minister said. “I am convinced that the Hungarian rule is the model. It should not be opposed; it should not be denounced,” he has insisted. “It is the only regulation that works in Europe.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Orbán, in his annual press conference this Thursday in Budapest.Associated Press/LaPresse (APN)

Recently, Slovakian political parties have accused the Hungarian government of attempting to influence the Slovak elections in favor of populist Robert Fico by allowing irregular migrants to cross the Slovak border, in a strategy somewhat similar to that of Aleksander Lukashenko on the eastern edge of the EU. Orbán has strongly denied this charge, rejecting “the assumption” that his country is altering the migration flow “for political reasons.” The leader boasts of having protected his border, but he has also acknowledged that “this closure is not airtight. We try to stand up to it, but sometimes they get through.” Orbán also reported an increase in the level of violence at border crossings.

“There is a bubble in Brussels and it has to burst.”

Orbán has become a thorn in the European Union’s side. At last week’s summit in Brussels, he appeared to be more alone than ever when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz encouraged him to leave the room while the decision was being made about the start of Ukraine’s EU accession talks. Orbán’s abstention allowed the decision to go ahead but the next day he blocked the €50 billion aid package for Kyiv. His threats are still very much alive a week later: “Ukraine cannot be admitted to the European Union without the decision of the Hungarian Parliament,” Orbán warned. On the financial lifeline to Ukraine, postponed to another summit in February, he pointed the way to the partners: “The 26 of them can join together and do it outside the [EU] budget, but they cannot do it in the budget without Hungary.” He added that Hungary’s goal is not “to block decisions, but to have the EU make good decisions.”

In his fiery rhetoric toward Brussels, Orbán stated that “it is a fact that Hungary is being blackmailed in Brussels.” He says that the European Parliament is blackmailing him, by “threatening to replace the president of the European Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] if it gives Hungary the money it owes it,” even though the country is doing “almost all” of the reforms required of it to address the rule of law. “You cannot blame me for doing everything in my power to defend Hungary’s interests in such a situation of extortion,” he said.

Brussels is of the opposite opinion: that Orbán uses blackmail to obtain economic benefits in exchange for not blocking strategic policies, as in the case of Ukraine: “We don’t want to link Ukrainian money to any Hungarian money. If we have a dispute with someone, we settle it with him, not sideways, through the back door. All we are asking is to execute what is in the budget. Hungarians’ money is in the budget; it is our money; give it to us,” the Hungarian prime minister said Thursday.

Orbán has his eyes on the European Parliament elections, hoping for a sharp rise of the far right. “Things are going very badly in Brussels: there is no peace on our border, the economy is deteriorating and cannot cope with conflicts such as those erupting in the Balkans. And how did we get here? There is a bubble in Brussels, and it has to burst,” he said. The Hungarian Prime Minister is alone in the European Parliament after being expelled from the Group of the European People’s Party, but he has said that his party, Fidesz, is in negotiations to join the Group of Conservatives and Reformists, to which far-right parties like Spain’s Vox and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy belong.

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