Orban Vows to Transform Hungary in Push Toward Illiberalism

(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his new government would enact “big changes” over the next four years and he saw no need to revisit his controversial break with liberal democracy, which has roiled the ex-communist nation’s relations with the European Union.

The next government will aim to reverse a population decline in the country of 10 million, boost economic competitiveness and “rationalize” a decrepit state healthcare system, Orban told lawmakers after taking the oath of office for a fourth four-year term in Budapest on Thursday. He said that he would work to ensure “freedom” for Hungarians, though a strong government was the priority.

Orban has emerged as a ringleader of populist political forces in the EU after amassing more power than any of his predecessors since communism and challenging the bloc’s democratic ideals. French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s urging deeper EU integration and democratic standards for members, has warned of a “civil war” of values in the EU as Poland and other eastern European countries and nationalist parties in the West have mimicked Orban’s policies and rhetoric.

“Liberal democracy has run aground,” Orban said. “Having a stable, strong and actionable Hungarian state and government trumps everything else.”

‘Nightmare’ Vision

He said that the EU needed to give up on a “nightmare” federalist vision, a thinly-veiled reference to plans by some EU leaders to deepen economic and political integration among EU members, and content itself with being an association of sovereign member states.

Orban called for the end of liberal democracy in 2014. He has since moved to undercut media and judicial independence and to crack down on universities and civil society. The European Parliament is debating whether the measures constitute a systemic breach of democratic standards that would warrant a procedure that may end with the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the EU.

“Hungary needs the EU, and the EU needs Hungary,” Orban said.

Orban’s ruling party won a third consecutive two-thirds parliamentary majority in elections on April 8, which gives it the the power to change any law without opposition support. Orban said he’d use the mandate to continue building a “Christian democracy” based on preserving and strengthening Hungary’s heritage as his administration shifts ownership in the banking, energy and media sectors into domestic hands and opposes EU immigration quotas.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.