Viktor Orban left an EU summit on Friday morning at 2am with a lecture on the meaning of Christianity by his European colleagues who were ringing in his ears.
The self-proclaimed bearer of “illiberal democracy” and traditional Christian values in Europe has endured two hours of being rebuffed over his government’s bill to ban content depicting or promoting LGBTI + people in schools and and media.
“If you really believe in God, you have to be tolerant,” he told Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins Capu Ungherese, according to diplomats familiar with the discussion. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have also criticized Orban’s legislation as a violation of Christian ethics, officials say.
Diplomats have described how EU leaders have ousted Hungary’s prime minister with a vehemence rarely seen at European Council meetings, where presidents and prime ministers usually avoid personalizing their disputes.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who led the indictment, also asked Orban to consider activating the Article 50 exit process to leave the bloc if he was not willing to repeal the legislation.
It was as if the fierce anger for Orban’s shattering of law, freedom of the media and minority rights had exploded after years in which he had escaped censorship thanks to the support of the ruling party. center-right European people and their leading light, the German Angela Merkel. But that support has now evaporated, and Merkel has aligned herself with other critics.
“This could really be a turning point,” said Klara Dobrev, a member of the Hungarian opposition in the European parliament, adding that Budapest and Brussels were now closed in confrontation.
The reaction against the project, which many EU leaders have said was homosexual with sexual offenses against children, seemed to Orban, who has spent years fighting with Brussels. At the end of the discussion, he complained of being “attacked” by all parties and asked his fellow leaders to consider how they felt.
Personal attack on gay rights may explain the reactions of some EU leaders. Luxembourgish Xavier Bettel has given a poignant account of his struggles to be accepted as gay as he “bought several to cry,” Rutte told the Financial Times. Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister, daughter of a gay couple, said the debate was “painful”.
“It was personal,” one diplomat said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said the controversy raises an “existential issue for Europeans” that went beyond the behavior of Orban or his allies in Poland and Slovenia, the only countries to protest in his defense. .
“Today we have democratically elected elected leaders backed by their people who are on track to make decisions that contravene Europe’s core values,” Macron said. “It’s not a small problem.”
Peter Kreko, director of the Institute of Political Capital, a research firm in Budapest, said Orban had wanted to cause a row with Brussels to distract attention from an unpopular plan to build a campus for Fudan University of China in Budapest.
Orban also wanted to divide opposition parties that have promised to present a united front against the prime minister’s Fidesz party in next year’s parliamentary elections, Kreko said. Jobbik, an extreme right-wing party aligned with the opposition, has supported amendments to homosexuality.
“Viktor Orban wants to fight the Brussels struggle instead of fighting the Fudan struggle, “Kreko said.” The government’s Euroscepticism has spread in another march. “
In recent weeks, the Hungarian leader has sharpened his anti-Brussels rhetoric, particularly with a speech last week when he called for the abolition of a directly elected European parliament and warned that the EU was turning into the ” Soviet empire. Orban’s opponents say he is endangering Hungary’s membership in the EU.
Agoston Mroz, the executive director of Nezopont, a research institute close to Fidesz, said Orban wanted to pull Hungary out of the EU which was sweeping.
“It’s about the kind of membership and their vision of a union of nation-states,” he said, noting that Orban wanted to create a new political family for nationalist parties after Fidesz was ousted from the EPP earlier this year.
“We need to create a new platform and polarize,” Mroz said.
Meanwhile, Brussels seems ready for legal action. Didier Reynders, EU justice commissioner, said Hungarian law was “an obvious violation” of fundamental values, but Brussels needed to show that there was a violation of a specific EU law, such as ‘is audiovisual or e-commerce legislation.
“This is less obvious when you look at the situation,” Reynders said.
The Hungarian government says the law is not discriminatory because it also prohibits material intended for children that promotes sexuality in general. The legal battle can be lengthened and simply added to the list of other cases the EU is prosecuting for other Hungarian violations in relation to academic freedom, NGOs and immigration.
At the same time, Orban’s opponents hope that the EU’s financial leverage can put them online. The commission is next week to sign Hungary’s plans to spend 7 billion euros of EU Recovery Fund money. MEPs from the Centrist Renew Europe group have been asked to withdraw approval due to several violations of EU values in Hungary.
Brussels is unlikely to agree but may suspend payments if economic reform commitments are not met by Hungary. The commission also has new powers under the so-called conditionality mechanism of law which allows it to suspend funds if it feels that the rule of law in Hungary is threatened.
“The real fight will be if we can exploit the process to put pressure on him,” one diplomat said.
Dobrev, the Hungarian MEP, said it was inevitable that these safeguards would be deployed against Orban’s government, increasing the stakes of the confrontation. “Next year, the slogan of his campaign will be ‘Orban or Europe for Hungary?’ “” Dobrev said. “What else can I do?”