Hungary’s 2024 Elections and EU Presidency

In 2024, Hungary’s Fidesz-led government faces a test in its political and social endurance as the opposition faces challenges such as inflation, economic stagnation, and growing international isolation. The country will celebrate 25 years of NATO and 20 years of EU membership, but these milestones will be downplayed by the government due to their lack of alignment with Orban’s vision of “connectivity.” The government will continue its crusade against the EU and NATO, arguing that Hungary should be a bridge between the West and the East rather than a faithful member of such blocs.

Two elections are scheduled for June 9, both local and European, but neither pose much threat to Orban’s power structure. The opposition parties may find it relief if they can retain the few bastions it conquered in 2019, or succumb to Fidesz rule until 2030. Local elections are expected to further aggravate society’s polarization and widen the gap between cosmopolitan Budapest and the countryside. Fidesz has not nominated a candidate, indicating concern over exposing its heavyweights to humiliation.

The unity of opposition parties in Hungary’s smaller settlements, such as Debrecen, is at risk of crumbling, potentially affecting Fidesz’s popularity and forcing the government to reconsider its aggressive industrial policy, especially in the face of the controversial Chinese battery factories.

Fidesz is expected to win in the European elections, with opposition parties settling for one or at most two MEPs. Orban will once again claim to be Europe’s preeminent leader, in power for 13 years due to the uniquely unfair electoral system and lack of a level playing field in campaign finance.

The European elections are expected to redraw the political map of Europe, with the biggest European party groupings – the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – expected to hold their majority. The government is hoping for a strong shift to the far right, with Fidesz considering joining the far-right Identity and Democracy grouping in the European Parliament. This would be a step down from being a member of Europe’s largest party family, the EPP, but sitting in the Non-Aligned Group does not fit Orban’s grand vision and reinforces the notion of him being a European outcast.

In the second half of 2024, Hungary will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, putting it in charge of the EU’s policy-making process for six months. However, the Hungarian presidency will be criticized and scrutinized as the country’s administrators and political heavyweights try to prove they can act as “honest brokers.”

Orban’s international influence is limited due to key decisions being made in European capitals. The US presidential election in November could signal Orban’s turning point, with Trump’s victory potentially boosting his global standing. If Trump fails, Orban may need to reassess his foreign policy and seek new allies. Efforts to revive the Polish-Hungarian friendship and revive the Visegrad Group are expected to be unsuccessful.

Fidesz’s popularity has remained unaffected, and 2024 looks promising for Orban with tamed inflation and expected growth. With a third of frozen EU funds unblocked in December, Orban can launch projects like teacher pay rises and healthcare sector investment.

However, experts worry it may be too late to change the situation. The government will revert to its previous carrot-and-stick approach, rewarding close supporters and punishing critics. The new Sovereignty Protection Law will be tested, potentially stripping opposition funding and intimidating critical NGOs and media. The European Court of Justice is expected to challenge the law, potentially violating EU law, and potentially causing chilling effects on critical voices.

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