Viktor Orbán has for years been perhaps the only politician in the EU repeatedly advocating for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while most have strongly opposed the politics of the Turkish president. The Hungarian Prime Minister regularly argues the reasons this cooperation is in Hungary’s best interest, naming migration and economic advantages as the key areas.
Orbán’s token of appreciation
Orbán has made several symbolic gestures towards Erdogan in the past years while the relations between Turkey and other EU countries remained frosty.
When the Hungarian Prime Minister first received Erdogan in Budapest in 2013, he called him one of the most prominent political leaders of the decade, adding that there are few leaders in the world today who have transformed his country like Erdogan has.
“Whatever anti-Turkish statements will come from major EU countries, Hungary will never sympathize with these,” Orbán said in 2017 after Erdogan pushed through a constitutional amendment that immensely centralized his power, despite much criticism.
Hungary also became an observer of the Turkic Council last year, which opened its representation in Budapest this September.
Perhaps the most serious gesture, however, was made last month when Péter Szijjártó delayed the declaration of the EU condemning Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish forces. This move was noted by Erdogan, who later thanked Orbán for the “support” on the international stage. (According to Erdogan’s critics, the military action is, in fact, ethnic cleansing against the Kurds.)
Interestingly, Erdogan’s gratitude proved to be in vain, as later Orbán did not veto the European Council’s similar declaration, thus the body condemned the Turkish intervention. Later, Fidesz MEPs also voted in the European Parliament to impose sanctions on the country.
The reason for the fellowship
According to Orbán, Hungary has two main reasons for the close relationship with Erdogan. The first and perhaps most often articulated argument is the key role Turkey plays in migration.
The transcontinental country is instrumental in stopping the “wave of millions of migrants” on their way towards Hungary and Europe, Prime minister Viktor Orbán said in a recent interview.
During his last visit to Budapest, Erdogan also repeated his threat to let refugees come to Europe if the EU stops ensuring financial help to Turkey.
The other similarly pragmatic argument for the close ties is the possible economic benefits the Hungarian government can expect from the Central Asian region (mainly export market expansion and other financial gains).
The Hungarian Prime Minister explained giving Erdogan such a warm welcome, saying that “Hungary has declared in its economic policy while maintaining its commitment to NATO and the European Union, the policy of an Eastern opening.” This essentially means “we want to find business partners, relationships, trade, and markets in the world to the east of us.”
Slim economic advantages
In reality, however, we have so far experienced relatively little of these economic advantages, at least that is what economic news portal G7 concludes in their article.
According to their summary, the economic cooperation between Hungary and the Turkic region (Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan) remains rather insignificant: trade volume with the entire region is still around four billion dollars, with around three-quarters of which is with Turkey.
While this is a nominal increase compared to years prior, it still remains below 2% of the trade volume between Hungary and other EU member states. Even Erdogan and Orbán were in agreement that the large-scale plans of increasing trade were not realized so they decided to set a yearly trade goal of $6 billion, but that is still $3 billion away, liberal 444.hu writes.
But there are also some developments that could potentially bring economic gains for Hungary in the future.
The achievements so far
A small but notable result of this cooperation is the Hungarian army buying armored vehicles from Turkey. Hungary will pay around 3.5 billion HUF ($12 million) for 6 or 7 SUVs.
A more significant result of the Eastern opening is MOL’s new purchase. The Hungarian multinational oil and gas company recently acquired a nearly 10% stake in Azerbaijan ACG (Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli) oil field, one of the largest oilfields in the world. The company also bought a stake in the BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) oil pipeline, which transports crude oil from Azerbaijan to Ceyhan, one of Turkey’s Mediterranean ports. The acquisition made MOL the third largest partner in the oil field.
Although Hungary has sought to establish a good relationship with Azerbaijan directly, due to the close Azeri-Turkish relationship, Hungary’s position is definitely strengthened if Budapest is on good terms with Ankara, news portal Index writes in its summary.
Turkey is also a potential partner to Hungary in terms of energy security, as it is becoming an increasingly important transit country for the transportation of natural gas and oil to Europe.
Following Russia’s Gazprom’s planned Black Sea Stream called “South Stream’s” cancellation, primarily due to political opposition in the EU, Russia has built a Turkish Stream from where gas would flow to Austria via the Balkans, including Hungary. This could reduce Hungary’s energy dependency, creating a more secure environment for the country.
Gazprom has already begun filling the first line of TurkStream with natural gas in October, while the commercial gas that will flow through the pipeline is planned to start by the end of 2019. Bulgaria has also promised to complete its stretch of the TurkStream gas pipeline by 2020 as originally planned.
Featured photo by Vivien Cher Benkő/PM’s Press Office