In last week’s state of the union address, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s speech was a surprising tour-de-force. All of a sudden, it seems that the supposed new technocratic administration may be a little more politically active than initially expected. The speech was quite long at 79 minutes and covered a vast range of topics. From climate change to migration, as well as a stronger European Health Union, the commission president hit the proverbial “integration ball” out of the park. Let’s take a look at how this speech could fit with, or clash with, the incumbent Hungarian government.
It is quite obvious from the get-go that this is not the speech Viktor Orbán would have given, not by a long shot. This is especially interesting, since von der Leyen is from the same European faction as Fidesz, the EPP, and Fidesz supported her bid for the presidency of the European Commission. But it seems that the EPP is in fact a very broad tent party, because this speech was in many cases the complete opposite of what Fidesz would have liked.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: migration. Orbán (and Hungarian voters through a referendum in 2016) has made it explicitly clear over the past few years that Hungary wants no part of any sort of European migration compact. While the Commission president was not explicitly clear about how this new approach to European migration is supposed to happen, it obviously does not involve using Frontex to build a massive wall and saying no to the migrants, à la Fidesz. This approach from the Commission is surprising, because Hungary is not the only country that has expressed a strong opposition to migration and migrant quotas, this is a position that has garnered much support in Eastern Europe and also has supporters in Western European countries as well.
The next topic, however, makes it obvious that von der Leyen chose to pull no punches in this speech. She not only singled out Poland in saying that LGBT-free zones in certain Polish cities are unacceptable in the EU, but also spoke about dealing with violations of rule of law in certain member states. This approach, justified or not, puts the Commission on an inevitable collision course with the governments of Poland and Hungary. As with much of the policy areas mentioned in the speech, it remains to be seen how exactly these questions will be addressed.
The greenhouse gas emission target, a 55% reduction by 2030, is not necessarily at odds with the Hungarian government’s position. Orbán announced Hungary’s new green direction right around the time of the pandemic’s beginning, and it really does not hold a candle to the rift that the above-mentioned Commission goals will cause. Further integration regarding the European Health Union may also be opposed by Hungary, but once again, migration and rule of law are two areas where the Hungarian government has shown that it has a rock-solid stance with no room for compromise.
Taking a step back from this EU Commission – Hungary analysis, the motives behind this forceful stance from the Commission are interesting to analyze. Is the Commission simply exasperated with the direction certain member states have taken, choosing to air everyone’s dirty laundry in front of the entire EU? There is also the question of whether this speech is coming from a position of strength, or it is simply the loud bark of an EU leader trying to be heard in a single market that currently has closed borders and rising deaths due to the pandemic. Furthermore, Guy Verhofstadt of the Renew Europe group made the point that half of the promises made in Ursula von der Leyen’s speech are currently blocked in the European Council, meaning that it is simply not in the Commission’s power to implement them.
In the featured photo: PM Viktor Orbán with EC president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo by Vivien Cher Benko/PM’s Press Office