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Hungary’s Viktor Orban announces new far-right EU bloc, what this means for Europe’s right-wing politics?

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Hungarian leader Viktor Orban has announced a new European parliamentary bloc (Photo: AFP)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced the formation of a new far-right bloc in the European Union (EU).

Orban’s Fidesz party has joined ranks with Austria’s Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) and the Czech Republic’s ANO party to form the new EU bloc ‘Patriots for Europe’.

Orban, the longest-ruling far-right leader of Europe, has been a vocal critic of the EU and mainstream Western politics. He is the most pro-Russia and pro-China leader who has broken ranks with much of the West on key issues like support to Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

In the last month’s European Parliament’s elections, Orban’s Fidesz performed poorly even as right-wing parties elsewhere —such as in Italy and France— made impressive gains. The creation of yet another right-wing bloc in further highlights the diversity and differences among Europe’s right-wing parties and underscores that there is no one right-wing bloc in Europe — irrespective of how media headlines may make it look like.

The fact that Orban made a new alliance and did not join either Giorgia Meloni’s or Marine Le Pen’s blocs shows that there is no one right-wing bloc in Europe and the parties have too many differences among themselves to come together under one banner, says Swasti Rao, a scholar of Europe at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (MP-IDSA).

We will be largest right-wing bloc, says Orban

Announcing the new alliance, Orban said the bloc will “quickly” become the largest right-wing grouping in Europe.

“Today we are creating a political formation that in my view will be off to a flying start and will very quickly become the largest group of the European right. This will happen within days and then the sky is the limit,” said Orban.

The idea that Orban and allies appear to be pursuing is to bring all unaligned right-leaning smaller parties or Members of European Parliament (MEPs) in their folds to boost their numbers.

FPO leader Herbert Kickl said the formation of the alliance marked the beginning of a new era of European politics.

“This alliance is meant as a rocket that will bring other parties on board at the European level to join forces and give Europe a better future,” said Kickl.

Can Orban’s new alliance make any difference?

Even though Orban has been the longest-ruling far-right leader of Europe —he has been in power since 2010— his Fidesz party performed poorly in the recent EU elections. At the moment, he neither has the numbers nor the opportunity to make any ripples.

Moreover, the moderate bloc of European People’s Party (EPP) of Ursula Von der Leyen has emerged as the winner and she is set to continue as the EU’s chief. She is also expected to get into a partnership with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) bloc of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with whom she has a good working relationship as they share similar views on Europe and Russia. This leaves little room for Orban to make a difference soon.

Rao of MP-IDSA says that the European right-wing parties are not united to make any lasting mark as an ideological bloc.

EU chief has been willing to work with Italian right-wing PM Giorgia Meloni (Photo: Reuters)

“We have Meloni’s party that dominates the ECR group that’s much closely aligned with the moderate EPP despite not having a formal deal. Then there is the ID group where Le Pen’s party dominates which does not share this position of ECR. Therefore, there is little chance of Orban succeeding in any consolidation of Europe’s right-wing or making a difference in short term,” says Rao, an Associate Fellow at the Europe and Eurasia Center at MP-IDSA.

How to understand Orban’s new bloc?

There are two more reasons that drive Orban’s formation of the new bloc.

Firstly, Orban is driven by domestic compulsions to show the people that he is still very much in the game despite the poor show in the EU polls.

Secondly, Hungary has now assumed the rotating presidency of EU for six months.

“Domestically, Orban has to show his voters that he is not only in the game in the country but also abroad as he is able to attract fellow far-right leaders from other countries. In terms of European politics, he announced the formation of the new bloc at the time when Hungary assumed the EU presidency to signal that he wishes to set the agenda for the EU,” says Rao.

That Orban’s announcement is more about messaging than anything substantial can also be understood from the fact that it has not yet been registered. As of now, the bloc cannot be formally registered within the EU as rules require a bloc to have members from at least seven EU member-states to be registered. As of now, the Patriots for Europe only has representation from three member-states.

The idea that Orban has floated is that he would get all other members within its fold and would be the largest right-wing bloc this way. As things stand, there are 45 MEPs not attached to a bloc and 42 unaligned MEPs. If he brings all of them together, then the new bloc could indeed be the largest. But can that be the case? That’s unlikely considering the divisions within the Europe’s right-wing parties.

“Meloni’s ECR is pro-Europe, pro-Ukraine, and anti-Russia. While Le Pen of ID group has questioned the aid to Ukraine, even it is hawkish on China and had expelled Germany’s far-right AfD over alleged spying for China. The European right-wing parties have their own red lines. The red lines will increase as they become more mainstream. Orban with his pro-Russia, pro-China, anti-Ukraine, and Europe-skepticism is unlikely to find partners easily,” says Rao.

However, in the long term, the rise of far-right per se will change the way European political values are envisioned, says Rao.

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