Budapest Forum 2022: Hungary: Global Illiberal Trend-setter and Black Sheep of the EU?



  • David Korányi, Senior Advisor to the Mayor of Budapest on City Diplomacy, Hungary, Executive Director, Action for Democracy
  • Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow, Stanford University Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
  • Mathieu Lefévre, CEO and Co-founder, More in Common
  • Kati Marton, Action for Democracy Advisory Council Chair
  • László Bruszt, Co-director, CEU Democracy Institute, Professor, Central European University
  • Timothy Garton Ash, Professor, Oxford University
  • Charles Gati, Professor, Senior Research Professor of European and Eurasian Studies, Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC, USA

Moderator: Jean-Yves Camus, Special Counsel, Paris City Hall International Relations Department


Members of the panel discussed the current situation of the relationship between the EU and Hungary, illiberalism, and the reasons for Orban’s popularity and international influence. A historical and analytical approach were both presented.

Main takeaways

  • David Koranyi pointed out the fundamental shift in the relationship between the EU and the Hungarian government today with potentially devastating consequences for the country’s future due to the proposed withholding of funds.
  • According to Professor Gati, it is a national issue to overcome the trauma of Trianon in a peaceful way. Orban’s success can partly be explained by an unprocessed Trianon, its importance to the Hungarian psyche, and the fact that the opposition doesn’t exploit this possibility. The EU can provide some limited remedies to this trauma.
  • As stated by Professor Fukuyama, despite the small size of Hungary, Orban has an enormous impact especially to American conservatives. Orban has articulated and mainstreamed extreme right ideas, which are the following: illiberal democracy (1), Western civilization has one base on Christianity (2), Hungarian nationality is based on Hungarian ethnicity (3), Economic nationalism (4), Sympathy for Putin and Putin’s Russia (5).
  • Kati Marton argued that Orban is an opportunist, a non-ideological politician—similar to Putin—and power is only what counts for them. The EU is more unified than ever, and Orban miscalculated himself regarding the war. The EU has to finally rein Orban in on the media, judiciary and corruption.
  • According to László Bruszt, Orban is not a trendsetter, at least not in the European setting. Orban is influenced by extreme right intellectuals, such as Gyula Tellér and László Bogár. Tellér made a link between sovereigntism and problems with multiparty democracy.
  • Mathieu Lefévre and his NGO tries to understand the psychology of audiences based on extensive polling. They identified the core Fidesz voters as a low trust group, which count for 1/3 of national population. This group of people has very low interpersonal trust, is lonely and isolated, feels unheard, and has some sense of nostalgia, long for a golden past. There are two opportunities, the cost-of-living crisis, where the EU could put pressure on the Hungarian government trough withholding funds, and the currently pro-Russian followers of Orban may turn against Russia with time due to a prolonging war.
  • Timothy Garton Ash underlined that the EU has facilitated aversion of democracy in Hungary by directly funding the central government and Fidesz. The EU is still an economic community today and acted for a long time as if there wasn’t anything wrong with the Hungarian democracy—which the approach was changed by the war in Ukraine. The EU is not going to save democracy in Hungary, only Hungarians can do that.

Policy recommendations

  • The EU should take responsibility in allocation of funds, and effectively enforce their appropriate use.
  • The position of local governments and stakeholders should be strengthened.
  • The opposition in Hungary should exploit the possibility within the unprocessed trauma of Trianon instead of complete ignorance.
  • The EU should keep putting pressure on the Hungarian government by withholding funds.
  • Hungary needs the EU very badly to bring the five million ethnic Hungarians living abroad closer.
  • The EU is not going to save democracy in Hungary, only Hungarians can do that.