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European right cheers Orban win

Jefferson Chase (Berlin)
April 9, 2018

Populists in Germany and across Europe were celebrating the landslide re-election of the Hungarian prime minister. Detractors of the European Union see it as a sign that voters are getting behind their cause.

Viktor Orban celebrating his election win on April 8, 2018.
Image: Reuters/L. Foeger

The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party hasn't had much to cheer recently. So they were all the more elated at one of the European Union's leading critics, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, being returned to office with a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Deputy AfD Parliamentary Leader Beatrix von Storch tweeted a picture of herself with Orban and the message: "Congratulations, Viktor Orban! A bad day for the EU, a good one for Europe."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker plans to write to Orban to congratulate him on his victory, according to a commission spokesman. "The European Union is a union of democracy and values," he said, adding that defending these principles and values is the duty of all member states.

The EU has been highly critical of Orban in the past for blocking a common European policy on migrants and failing to uphold democratic values. Orban's large majority enables him to change the constitution, and there are fears that he will use this power to undermine the EU and outlaw nongovernmental organizations that support migration.

But for nationalists, a setback for the bloc is cause for celebration.

"Good morning, Germany," tweeted AfD co-chairman Jörg Meuthen. "Viktor Orban stands for policies oriented around his own people, the Hungarians. He clearly stated that he would continue those policies, and he was re-elected for precisely that reason."

Wilders and Le Pen also offer congratulations

Other European populists reacted in similar fashion. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders also hailed Orban's "excellent result" and "deserved victory." France's Marine Le Pen portrayed the Hungarian election as the possible start of a nationalist wave in Europe.

"A great and clear victory by Viktor Orban in Hungary: the reversal of values and the mass migration of the EU have once again been rebuffed," Le Pen tweeted. "Nationalists could gain a majority in the next European Parliament elections in 2019."

Read moreEU wants to hit Hungary's Viktor Orban where it hurts: The wallet

And Poland's conservative government, which has also been accused by the EU of failing to uphold democratic standards, was particularly effusive in praising Orban's victory.

"It's a confirmation of Central Europe's emancipation policy," Poland's deputy foreign minister and envoy to the European Union, Konrad Szymanski, told a Polish television station. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also offered congratulations, writing "the path of reforms is never easy."

Eastern European EU member states have rejected EU attempts to relocate some asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece to the rest of the bloc.

German interior minister pleased

Viktor Orban and Horst Seehofer on October 17, 2016, in Munich.
Orban enjoys cordial relations with Seehofer and the Bavarian conservatives, the CSUImage: Picture-Alliance/dpa/T. Hase

Most mainstream German politicians reacted to Orban's election with more or less concealed dismay. For example, Social Democrat Ralf Stegner wrote on Twitter that "the election in Hungary will not make Europe's challenges any easier," saying the large majority for Orban would embolden his "authoritarian and nationalist course."

But German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who is also the chairman of the Bavarian conservative party CSU, was a very prominent exception.

"I'm happy about his electoral victory, which was once again a very clear one," Seehofer told reporters in Munich.

Seehofer has pushed for strict limits on the numbers of refugees Germany accepts and a tougher stance on whether their immediate family members should be allowed to join them in the country.

Seehofer advised the EU to pursue "sensible bilateral relations with Hungary" and criticized the bloc's "policies of arrogance and paternalism toward individual member states."

"Orban's party is the sister party of Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Seehofer," Stegner told Deutsche Welle. "We have registered that the Hungarian people voted as they did. It's unusal that someone can win half the vote but get two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, but that's the way it is."

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters that Merkel had congratulated her Hungarian opposite number in writing. Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also sent a relatively generic message of congratulation to Orban.

EU supporters see a 'tumor of values'

Jean Asselborn at DW's Global Media Forum in 2017.
Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, sees Orban as a threat to values in the EUImage: DW/K. Danetzki

Proponents of a strong European Union were dismayed by the result of the Hungarian election and worried that it could start a trend in Eastern Europe.

"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," Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, told German newspaper Die Welt. "It is up to Germany and France, along with all member states that aren't counting on indifference, to weigh in unambiguously on the basis of the European treaties to neutralize this tumor of values."

Read moreTwo against the EU: Hungary PM Viktor Orban visits Poland

German opposition leaders were equally critical of Orban and his German supporters, particularly the CSU, which has invited the Hungarian leader to Bavaria on a number of occasions.

"The permanent star guest of the CSU has won," tweeted senior Green Party member Konstantin von Notz. "An anti-European, anti-liberal and right-wing populist with anti-Semitic tendencies. In keeping with our Christian, occidental tradition: 'You reap what you sow.'"

Orban wins another term