Bulgaria's Ex-FinMin: Orban Uses Migrant Crisis to Reverse Decreasing Popularity
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has skillfully exploited the weak response of the EU towards the migrant crisis in order to reverse his decreasing popularity at home.
This is claimed by Bulgaria's Former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the first government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Simeon Djankov, in an article for the Financial Times, published on Sunday.
Djankov notes that since the surge in the influx of refugees to Europe, Hungary has been in the centre of attention for two reasons.
The first reason is that Hungary is one of the main stops on the route of refugees headed towards Germany and other European countries.
The second reason is that Orban has used the migrant crisis to increase his falling popularity.
The author points to several things the Hungarian PM has done in order to improve his image: ordering the construction of a four-metre high fence at the border with Serbia, deploying troops to the border and blocking the access of immigrants to railway stations.
Djankov notes the skills of Orban, who is the only politician from eastern Europe, who has been elected to three terms as prime minister.
However his firm stance on immigration is largely due to an attempt to counter the rising popularity of the far-right Jobbick party.
The author believes that there are two deeper reasons for the harsh response of Orban to refugees.
Since the beginning of his second term in office in 2010, he has been criticised by EU leaders for his increasingly authoritarian style.
His government has been criticised for violating the independence of the central bank and the media, harming foreign investors and political opponents through his tax policy and assisting Russian President Vladimir Putin in his attempt to use energy resources as a foreign policy weapon against eastern Europe.
After having found the weakness in the EU's response to the migrant crisis, Orban is exploiting it to make his voice heard.
Djankov seems to agree with Orban that the EU has failed to respond adequately to the refugee crisis.
According to the author, Orban uses this to skillfully convey his idea that the EU needs strong-willed and decisive leaders like himself.
A second and perhaps more important reason is the lack of progress in the main priority of Orban's foreign policy, namely the reorientation towards Russia as a strategic partner.
Orban has made huge efforts to portray himself as the emissary of Russia in the EU and has been the most active European leader to support the South Stream pipeline.
Since Bulgaria refused to continue the project due to its incompatibility with EU regulations and the pipeline's announced cancellation by Putin in December 2014, Hungary has been most active in attracting support for the alternative Turkish Stream project.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the meeting between Orban and Putin in Budapest in February constituted the Russian President's first visit to the EU after the imposition of economic sanctions in 2014.
Djankov warns that the main concern in the Hungarian response to the refugee crisis is that other European countries can follow suit and ignore their humanitarian duties.
He points to examples such as the construction by Bulgaria of a fence at its border with Turkey or the deployment of troops by Macedonia at its border with Greece.
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