This past Monday, Viktor Orbán paid a visit to German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. The meeting was highly anticipated, with Hungarian media outlets speculating on what would be discussed behind closed doors.
The importance of this meeting cannot be understated, as relations between Orbán’s Fidesz party and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have been rocked by a dispute at the European Parliament level since last spring. Fidesz was almost unanimously suspended by EPP members over a slew of concerns about its behaviour (although, according to Fidesz, they themselves decided to suspend their rights in the EPP). This began a long, and still continuing, back-and-forth process where Fidesz teeters between remaining in the EPP, being expelled, or simply leaving on its own to join another bloc. It is against this backdrop that Orbán has openly talked about the possibility of joining a new European political party, attending heavily publicized meetings with Mateo Salvini’s La Liga, and PiS in Poland. Only last month, the media was buzzing with stories about how the talks with the Polish right-wing signal Orbán’s intention to move away from the EPP and farther to the right.
Thus, it is fair to say that expectations for spicy politics were running high before the meeting. Beforehand, the leader of Fidesz stated that he planned on discussing issues such as migration, as well as the accession of Serbia to the EU at the upcoming meeting. However, somewhat surprisingly, and definitely dimming the hopes of those who wished for some sort of controversy erupting, the meeting happened without a hitch, and the press conference beforehand was short and almost boring.
The German chancellor emphasized the strength of the German-Hungarian economic relationship, mentioning that Germany and the Visegrád 4 will continue to work towards European economic development. Orbán congratulated Germany on their moves towards digitization, and emphasized the importance of stabilizing the Balkans through speeding up Serbia’s EU accession process. Both leaders touched on the upcoming EU budget, with Merkel putting emphasis on the fact that Germany is a net-contributor, while Hungary is a net-recipient. However, both leaders also agreed that common ground exists, and that is what they are working towards.
The news, essentially, is that there is no news. Business continues as usual; true, debates continue over who gets how much of the European pie, but if one did not know about Fidesz’s suspension from the EPP, they would not have suspected a thing based on this meeting. If anything can be drawn from the Orbán-Merkel meeting, it is that money talks. With the expansion of the German auto industry into Hungary, the two countries have become ever-more economically integrated. Germany is Hungary’s largest trading partner, in both exports and imports, and Hungary accounts for a significant part of German trade as well.
Does this mean that both parties will suddenly drop their posturing and antics at the European level, and return to their previous relationship? Clearly not. On the German side, Merkel is still stuck between compromising over the suspension so as not to lose the Hungarian party to another European party grouping and making it clear that aspects of Fidesz’s politics are unacceptable to the EPP. Orbán is also playing a game, one where he courts European right-wing parties and continually threatens to leave the EPP but is also entirely aware of the negative consequences that leaving Europe’s largest bloc will entail. Ultimately, as long as German cars are being built in Hungary, both leaders are connected at the hip, whether they like it or not.
Featured photo illustration by Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI