According to Buzzfeed News, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is set to meet with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in London next week.
According to Buzzfeed News, Mr. Orbán’s upcoming visit will be seen as evidence by many EU officials that May is attempting to build alliances with Europe’s right-wing leaders in an effort to divide the EU and gain an advantage in upcoming Brexit negotiations. The planned meeting comes after October’s Conservative Party meeting in Birmingham, where Ms. May, to the dismay of European leaders, rejected the idea of the UK entering an agreement with the EU in the mold of Switzerland or Norway, countries that, while not in the EU, have access to the bloc’s single market in exchange for agreeing to follow the Union’s regulations on free movement of people. Pushing for the restriction of the movement of workers was a key factor in the “Leave” campaign’s victory in the Brexit referendum, and her statements are certainly popular to certain segments of Ms. May’s domestic political base. However, such posturing has angered many in the EU, who feel, in the words of one European official, that the British government seems set on “talking themselves into isolation.” Since then, Senior EU government sources have told Buzzfeed News that “they think May is intent on building controversial alliances and putting sensitive security matters up for negotiation in order to drive a wedge between” European countries, a narrative that Mr. Orbán’s upcoming visit certainly plays into.
The meeting also follows Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó’s trip to London two weeks ago to sign a memorandum the establishment of the “British-Hungarian Business Council”; additionally, it comes on the heels of Mr. Orbán’s comments about Ms. May at last month’s EU Council summit, where the Hungarian Prime Minister said of Ms. May that, “She’s done excellently… She’s clear-cut.”
Interestingly, Mr. Orbán’s comments, as well as his planned meeting with May, stand in interesting contrast to the position taken in September by the Visegrád 4 (V4), a partnership between Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary which works to advance Central European nations’ common interests. At a post-Brexit meeting of EU officials in Bratislava, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that the V4 countries would veto any future trade deal with the UK that would threaten the free movement of workers. According to Fico, “The V4 countries will be uncompromising…Unless we feel a guarantee that these people (living and working in Britain) are equal, we will veto any agreement between the EU and Britain.” Mr. Fico also stressed that the Visegrád Group would under no circumstances allow their nationals to be treated as “second-class citizens.”
At the same time, these very same priorities may be pushing Mr. Orbán toward his meeting with Ms. May; while Hungary and the other members of the Visegrád 4 are committed to protecting the rights of their citizens to live and work in the UK, they are also interested in slowing the flood of talented workers leaving their country, and it is on this second point that Mr. Orbán and Ms. May might find common ground.
Images via Reuters