Europe's Hungary Problem

Viktor Orban Flouts the Union

A migrant holds his child on the Serbian side of the fence in Asotthalom, Hungary, September 2015. Laszlo Balogh / Courtesy Reuters

Just as one rotten apple can spoil a barrel, one brutish autocrat can spoil a political union. As Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has consolidated power and built an increasingly authoritarian regime, he has thumbed his nose at the European Union—and mostly gotten away with it. Over the past few years, Orban has been a mild embarrassment for the union, but in his callous and shortsighted reaction to the ongoing refugee crisis, he has become a disgrace.

Styling itself as the defender of Europe’s so-called Christian civilization against an Islamic invasion, Orban’s regime has left thousands of refugees to languish in fields and in the streets, forcibly herded others into squalid detention camps, and fired water cannons and teargas at refugees gathered against the razor wire fence Hungary has erected on its border with Serbia.

European civilization may in fact be at risk. But it is Orban and his regime, not the desperate men, women, and children marching along the highway from Budapest to Vienna, who pose the real danger. The European Union claims to stand for liberal democracy, respect for human dignity, and human rights. With his regime’s xenophobic rhetoric and hostile treatment of refugees, Orban is making a mockery of these values and encouraging other eastern European governments to follow his example.

Likewise, Orban is a threat to Europe’s legal order. The Orban government claims that it is abiding by the EU’s Dublin Regulation, set of rules governing how member states should process asylum claims, and that it is fulfilling its legal obligation to secure the EU’s external borders. But the Orban government is distorting the application of these rules to pursue its populist, anti-immigrant agenda and is violating other EU rules concerning the humane treatment of refugees.


Orban is right about one thing: The refugee crisis has revealed that the EU rules on immigration and asylum are in desperate need of reform. Under the Dublin system, the European

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.