Fixing Europe’s Orbán Problem

BERLIN/BUDAPEST – In April, when German Chancellor Angel Merkel congratulated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his reelection, she let it be known that his large majority implied a “special responsibility” to use good judgment and behave with sensitivity toward opponents. He has done exactly the opposite.

Indeed, Orbán has consistently defied the European Union’s core values and practices. Taking a page from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook, Orbán has wielded his Fidesz party’s two-thirds parliamentary majority to push through a number of laws that attack what freedom remains in Hungary’s media, civil society, and academic community.

In his latest move against the media, Orbán has implemented an additional 40% tax on advertising revenue, in order to take down RTL Klub, Hungary’s last independent-minded television station. Meanwhile, he is tightening the screws on local civil-society groups, run by what he denounces as “paid political activists who are attempting to enforce foreign interests.” For example, he has sent government auditors to harass Norwegian government-funded NGOs promoting civil liberties and human rights. And last month, the parliament passed a law mandating a government-appointed supervisor for each Hungarian university, with budgetary authority and veto power.

In a recent speech, Orbán revealed that his ultimate objective is to build an “illiberal state” on “national foundations,” citing authoritarian regimes like Putin’s Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, and China’s one-party state as role models. He then asserted that these plans do not conflict with his country’s EU membership.