Angela Merkel and the European People’s Party are responsible for the political success of nationalist Viktor Orban. “For an entire decade, Orbán has been a member of the dominant political force on the European stage, while he has been tearing up democracy in Hungary,” Ferenc Lazo, Hungarian, professor of European history at Maastricht University, says in this interview. Germany and the European Union after Germany’s vote on September 26. Next week, Lazko will be in Italy, guest of the International Festival in Ferrara (October 2). Orbán’s future now that he is no longer a member of the European People’s Party? He tells us that opinion polls for the 2022 elections in Hungary show the alliance of left-wing parties “face to face” with Fidesz. “I am cautiously optimistic,” because since he had to leave the EPP, Orbán seems “more isolated,” the new group in the European Parliament with Salvini, Meloni and the Bulls of Peace is just his “dream, nothing concrete” and this hurt his “image” in Hungary.
Germany will vote next Sunday, no matter what, it is the end of the Merkel era. From your point of view as a Hungarian historian, what is your opinion of the chancellor in her behavior towards Viktor Orban and his nationalist party Fidesz?
Merkel and the generally moderate European center-right, the European People’s Party, have always tried to integrate different types of parties without considering too much principles. It was enough that they cast their votes and ensured that the EPP remained the leading political force in the European Parliament so that it could control many European appointments. Orbán was part of this strategy because Fidesz enjoyed significant support in Hungary, and was the fourth political force in the European People’s Party. Thus, for a decade, Orbán was a member of the dominant political force on the European stage while tearing up democracy in Hungary. Merkel and the entire German elite have used these tactics to conduct European politics and create the largest possible umbrella center-right. Now Orban is no longer in the EPP but it is important to remember what happened in the last 10 years. For Merkel and the German economy, Hungary is a good place to invest. Many German investments ended up there, especially in the Urban era. And this is another reason why the head of Fidesz was not hindered, he actually received financial assistance with European investments and funds, and thus was able to consolidate his system. That is why I say that political protection, economic relations, investments and European funds are the basis of its success.
What do you think will happen with the new German government and the end of the Merkel era?
The picture is very uncertain. The Left, the Greens, and the Liberals want nothing to do with Orbán. If they go to the government, I expect a change in approach, even if the economic relations between Hungary and Germany are strong and can limit this change. It is interesting to look at what is happening at the European level. Here I see a change in the last year or two and I think that process of change has accelerated, since Orbán, identifying himself as Donald Trump, had to leave the EPP, so today he looks more isolated than he did in the past, when he seemed. Associated with the world’s most influential leaders, starting with Merkel. His regime has been damaged by many scandals and political choices that have restricted democracy and rights such as the recent campaign against LGBT people. So I would expect the European position to change, even if it was only developing now, they had to act early, wait long, wait until the situation became really unsustainable.
An opportunity for change could be the Hungarian Recovery and Resilience Plan, which is banned in Brussels for more information on alleged violations of the rule of law, along with the Polish plan. But wouldn’t rejecting Orban’s plan risk being a throwback to Brussels in light of next year’s elections in Hungary?
an important question. Thinking about freezing funds can be a short-sighted strategy. I understand that there was a lot of money for the government that strengthened the system, and I understand that something must be done about it, but at the same time there is a risk of making a mistake. Hungary did not receive the money because of Orbán, but because it was somehow indebted. The question, then, is political. If Brussels really derails the Hungarian recovery plan, it has to argue well, obviously. Fidesz is a nationalist party that has made its fortune through the ongoing campaign against the European Union. For your constituents, the fact that the European Union is punishing them may not be a good reason to choose the opposition. Orbán may lose out on moderate votes at best, but with an anti-European campaign that deprives Hungary of funds, he can certainly bolster his most radical, most radical, and sometimes xenophobic voters, and his most ardent admirers who are his masterpiece. More radical development, such as Jobbik, a more nationalist and far-right party. This is the point. I think that there is still a strong majority in Hungary in favor of the EU, and Hungary is not a skeptical EU state: it is ruled by a nationalist power but at the same time the majority is pro-EU. Paradoxical, but that’s how it is. On the other hand, if the conflict between Budapest and Brussels flares up after a possible halt to the Hungarian recovery and resilience plan, Orbán may lose the moderate vote, but he certainly motivates himself and may be able to convince others.
If Merkel’s party, CDU-CSU, loses Sunday’s election and moves into the opposition, what scenario should we expect? Is it legitimate to believe that the German center-right, to solve its crisis, will move to the right and reopen channels of dialogue with the nationalist movements to the right of the European People’s Party?
I don’t expect that because in Germany this clear line that isolates the alternative in favor of the alternative still holds, and no one else comes close. But when talking about a more European level, the danger is there because in the CDU there are hard-line conservatives who sympathized with Orbán who played a special role for the conservatives. Meaning: to emphasize the correct non-political things that some may think, which they have never said, and which they have covered for many years. But Germany is the country where, unlike other countries, I do not expect all this to become mainstream. It remains a more moderate country compared to France, Italy and Poland.
Will Orban also win the upcoming elections in Hungary?
We are living in the most interesting moment in Hungarian politics in the last ten years. There is a coalition of anti-Orban parties and in the polls there is an upside down: the chances of defeating him are 50 per cent. Of course, confrontation is not equal. But the danger for Fidesz is the over-controlling of institutions and resources: it can be a throwback. I am cautiously optimistic because, on the one hand, the ruling party controls everything, but on the other hand, there is widespread conflict. But we do not know what will happen, because even if the opposition wins, it will not be able to rule freely because the tools for controlling resources will remain in the hands of Fides, at least in the first place.
Do you think Orbán will be able to give life to a new political group in the European Parliament with Salvini, Meloni and Polde Pace?
When the EPP left, everyone in Hungary thought it would immediately establish a new political group in the European Parliament. Then it became clear that the plans for this new “political house” are more than his dream, and most likely a looming project, but nothing concrete. What’s more, since then, this plan has not worked for any of them, not even Salvini. Urban had a certain charisma and power years ago. He appeared to be an important player in European politics but not anymore. Its power has already been overestimated. He wanted to be in some way the intellectual reference point for the Right, which is very important to his image in Hungary. But I don’t think it worked, there are a lot of forces among the nationalists pushing in different directions.
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