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Hungarians – the most pro-EU people in Europe

July 3rd, 2017

According to two parallel international surveys, Hungary turns out to be the nation most favourable to the European Union. But commentators sharply disagree on the role the government has played in confronting Brussels and shaping public opinion inside the country. The Hungarian EU Commissioner, despite his allegiance to Fidesz, disagrees with the government on migration issues.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Péter Krekó, a leading analyst at Political Capital, a liberal think tank, comments on the findings of a Chatham House – Kantar Public poll which found that, among the dozen member countries surveyed, Hungarians professed by far the most favourable opinions about the European Union. A record 74 per cent of Hungarian respondents said they were proud of being Europeans and 54 per cent expressed trust towards the European Union. Krekó finds it peculiar that, they nevertheless disagree with the migration policies pursued by the Union. Hungarians believe that EU handling of the mass immigration into Europe over the past years was one of the three major failure of the Union leadership. He attributes that opinion to the massive government campaigns on this issue, even though the same survey showed that the Hungarians do not have a blind faith in their own government. 49 percent think that their country ‘doesn’t function democratically’, while only 20 per cent have a similar opinion about the EU. The liberal commentator speculates that PM Orbán criticises the Union so often because he wants to bring those confidence figures down, in order not to be perceived as ‘less attractive’ than the European Union. Krekó also suspects the Prime Minister of intending to ‘blackmail the Union with a Euro-sceptical public and a realistic chance of Huxit in the background’. He slightly contradicts himself in his final remark where he writes that Mr Orbán wants to replace – or at least reshape – his overly pro-Union people. The Chatham House report focused on diverging attitudes towards the EU between élites and the public at large. The study found that élites have a far more positive view of the Union than the bulk of the population. Political Capital contributed to the interpretation of the data collected.

In his weekly editorial in Figyelő, Tamás Lánczi analyses the results of a survey conducted in all 28 EU member countries by Hungary’s Századvég think tank, which found that Hungarians and Poles are by far the least inclined to leave the European Union, among all member countries. Disagreement with mainstream Union migration policies appears here as a common trait of eastern Europeans, although in contradiction to Péter Krekó remarks, Századvég’s figures suggest that mass immigration is perceived throughout Europe as a serious problem that has not been solved. Lánczi believes that west Europeans intend to solve this by resettling migrants within the European Union, while East Europeans opt for fortified outer borders. Over the past few years, countries where the majority back the Hungarian position on this have become more numerous and include, in addition to the original supporters – Poland and Slovakia – Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States. Compulsory relocation quotas are also now rejected in the United Kingdom, Finland, Croatia and Denmark. Another novelty discovered by the Századvég researchers is that a majority of Europeans now consider people arriving from Africa and Asia as economic migrants rather than refugees. Lánczi’s conclusion is that the controversy has not been solved – the German approach is still backed by a majority of Europeans, while the Hungarian approach is being shared by an increasing number of people throughout the continent.

In Heti Válasz, Tibor Navracsics, the Hungarian European Commissioner openly disagrees with the Hungarian government on the migration quota issue. He thinks Swedes and Germans are right to expect other member countries to share the burden. He also suggests that the Hungarian government is wrong when it alleges that certain western countries actually created the wave of immigration by enthusiastically welcoming new arrivals, and by opposing attempts to seal Europe’s borders to illegal immigrants. ‘Nobody wanted that situation, and nobody produced it,’ the Commissioner asserts. He also explains that the sharp divergences between the Commission and the Hungarian government have made his position within the Commission extremely awkward. ‘There is nothing I can say that could please both Budapest and Brussels’, he complains. He ends his interview by reiterating that he is still a Fidesz member and would come back to play a role in Hungarian politics ‘if there is a chance for me to work for a civic Hungary’.

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