V4 Presidency: Poland’s Achievements, Expectations for Hungary

Summary of the Visegrad Insight Breakfast

6 July 2021

On 6 July, journalists Aleksandra Rybińska and János Széky discussed the outcomes of Poland’s presidency of the V4 and the perspectives for Hungary’s term during the Visegrad Insight Breakfast session.

In their initial remarks, the speakers touched upon the Polish V4 Presidency’s goals and achievements, the ambitions of Hungary’s V4 Presidency, the state of the Visegrad region’s cooperation and recurring differences between the partners. You can listen to the first part of the discussion below.

In the second part of the discussion, the speakers considered the state of democracy in Hungary. According to one of the speakers, the changes in the Hungarian media landscape are seemingly accepted by quite a few Hungarians when one looks at the results of the elections so it would be difficult to call Hungary an autocracy. However, Orban’s straightforwardness can make Hungary’s presidency of the V4 dangerous by focusing merely on Hungarian issues and specifically on Orban’s disputes with Brussels.

There was hesitation for calling Hungary an autocracy since there is legal opposition as there should be in any civilised country but at the same time, the fact that elections are not fair was noted. Although the opposition has a slight chance to win the elections, they will not be able to change the ‘relational economy’ prevalent in the country. That is why the experts view the chances to change the nature of the Hungarian system in a pessimistic light.

When it comes to the recently passed law in Hungary banning information about the LGBTQ+ community, it was claimed that it has long been an obsession for the Orbán government to apply ideology when it assists him rather than believing in or being controlled by it.  Way back in 2011, when the new media law raised some eyebrows in the EU, Orbán said that Hungary is attacked not because of the media law but because they are supporting the traditional European Christian family. Therefore, this kind of manipulation of alleged ideology was happening even way back in the early 2010s and the LGBTQ+ issue is not a separate nor a central one for them.

The speakers also discussed the perspectives for regional cooperation and finding allies in Europe. The Polish-German relations were presented in a pessimistic light as, according to the speaker, the German government made it quite clear that they consider the current Polish government to be the one they do not want to cooperate with. Therefore, any talks on difficult issues such as NordStream 2 or policy towards Russia are frozen. Germany’s lack of willingness to cooperate with Poland largely disadvantages the Baltic states and especially Ukraine who has been put in a very difficult position. As the US’ main issue at the moment is China, Joe Biden decided that he can use Germany as a tool to have peace and quiet in Eastern Europe. However, just because the US president wants Putin to be quiet, it does not mean he will; therefore, the security situation in the region will be weaker and less secure than it was before.

As for the Hungarian government, it was asserted that they do not care about Central Europe as such. Orbán tries to be on good terms with Slovakia, Austria and especially Slovenia which he sees as a kind of client. But generally, for Hungary, the Balkans are more interesting than Central European neighbours because their weaker and less crystalised political environment allows Hungarians to influence the region more easily.

Our speakers:

  • Aleksandra Rybińska is a journalist and commentator of right-wing outlets: wPolityce, Tygodnik Sieci, expert of the Warsaw Institute and board member of the Polish-German Cooperation Foundation.
  • János Széky is a conservative-liberal journalist and an editor at Élet és Irodalom (“Life and literature”), a weekly Hungarian newspaper about culture and politics.

Under the Visegrad Insight Breakfast (VIB) format, we invite a select group of ambassadors, diplomats, experts and journalists for meetings on the most pressing topics in Central Europe. You can read briefs from previous meetings here.

The cover picture is taken from European Council Newsroom.

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