Orban's Victory Hailed in Some Unlikely Places as Warning for EU

(Bloomberg) -- A German cabinet minister and Italy’s would-be prime minister were among those to hail Hungarian premier Viktor Orban’s massive election win as a welcome shot across the bows of what they said was an arrogant European Union.

“I’m pleased with the election victory, it’s once again a very clear win for Viktor Orban,” Horst Seehofer, German federal interior minister, told reporters in Munich. He fired a volley at the EU to stop lecturing the Hungarian government over its shift to the right, adding: “I’ve always thought that this policy of arrogance and paternalism with respect to other member states is wrong.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response contrasted sharply with that of Seehofer, who as Bavarian prime minister was her chief antagonist during the migration crisis of 2015-2016. While Merkel said in a congratulatory letter to Orban that he can count on Germany as a “reliable partner” in European and bilateral matters, her chief spokesman referenced divisions.

“It’s very clear that there are controversial topics in our cooperation,” Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday, flagging disagreement especially over Hungary’s response to the refugee crisis and its refusal to accept an EU system to distribute migrants.

Seehofer’s stance reflects a domestic debate over how to respond to the success of the anti-immigration, euroskeptic Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which took votes from the main parties in September’s elections to win its first seats in the Bundestag. Orban won a two-thirds majority after a campaign focused on immigration, and in neighboring Austria, Sebastian Kurz became the youngest ever chancellor after allying with an anti-immigration Freedom Party.

Ignoring ‘Threats’

In Italy, Matteo Salvini, whose center-right alliance is the biggest bloc after inconclusive March 4 elections, was one of the first populist leaders to applaud Orban. “Hungary voted with the heart and with the head, ignoring the threats of Brussels and Soros’s billions,” Salvini tweeted in a reference to Hungarian-born investor George Soros.
Salvini, head of the euroskeptic and anti-immigrant League, praised Hungarians and other “European peoples who defend their own companies, their own workers, their own students, their own future and their own borders,” at a party event in Udine in northern Italy.

French National Front leader Marine Le Pen said Orban’s victory was yet another rejection of “the change of values and the mass immigration extolled by the EU.” She tweeted that “nationalists” could win a majority in 2019 European Parliament elections.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders of the Dutch anti-Islam, anti-EU Freedom Party congratulated Orban for an “excellent result” and “a well-deserved victory.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.