Analysis: Hungary and Türkiye on the road to strategic partnership - M5 Dergi
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Analysis: Hungary and Türkiye on the road to strategic partnership

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On the occasion of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Budapest today, all media outlets organs focused on Hungary.

The Hungarians, a Turkic nation descended from the Huns, converted to Christianity around the year 1000. Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918. The country remained a member of the Warsaw Pact after WWII but withdrew from it and joined other European-based international organizations. Following its membership in the Council of Europe, Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. By European standards, Hungary is a homogenous country with 87% of its 9.6 million inhabitants being ethnic Hungarians. Among the minorities living in the country, the Roma make up 3%, while Germans constitute 2%.

Hungary is a Visegrad country

Hungary is actually one of the Visegrad countries. The term refers to describe the group of countries made up of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The number of members increased to four after the peaceful separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992. The group, now known as the Visegrad Four, is named after a town in Hungary. The first meeting in the town of Visegrad took place in 1335, hosted by Hungarian King Charles I and attended by the kings of Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary. While the meeting sought to resolve the problems between them, they also agreed to develop friendship and cooperation.

After World War II, the Visegrad countries came under the influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), as agreed at the Yalta Conference in 1945. While Hungary was a member of the Warsaw Pact, then-Prime Minister Janos Kadar’s 1956 revolt against totalitarian Soviet oppression was brutally suppressed. Similar developments took place in Czechoslovakia, leading to the Prague Spring in 1968. The resistance that began in Poland in 1981 under the Solidarity organization during the last days of the USSR was also crushed by dictator Vojciech Jaruzelsky.

Following the 1989 revolutions, the Visegrad countries became members of Western military, political and economic organizations. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, and Slovakia in 2004. The four Visegrad countries joined the EU simultaneously on May 1, 2004.

Main points of disagreement between Hungary and the EU

In June 1993, the Copenhagen criteria were adopted to prepare the countries of communist origin, including Hungary, for EU membership. These conditions were mainly aimed at strengthening their experience with the market economy and democracy. The Copenhagen Criteria state that the candidate country should be governed by a democracy and that those in power should be elected through multi-party elections. The candidate country must also be a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and strive to achieve universal standards of fundamental rights and freedoms. Laws must be applied equally to citizens and public institutions, and minority rights must be respected. The economic dimension of the Copenhagen criteria is based on the rules of a market economy with many buyers and sellers.

Today, most disagreements in Hungary’s relations with the EU are generally based on accusations that the country has backtracked from the Copenhagen criteria. After Viktor Orban was re-elected prime minister in the 2022 elections, the European Parliament declared that Hungary was “no longer a democratic country,” and the Council of Ministers cut €7.5 billion in funding to the country, claiming that the Budapest administration was violating the “rule of law.” The European Parliament resolution underlined that Hungary is a problematic country in terms of academic freedom, freedom of religion and association, discrimination against the LBTG community, and repression of irregular migrants and asylum seekers.

Accusations that Hungary does not adhere to the fundamental principles of the EU are made on a regular basis. However, it is unlikely that Hungary will leave the EU on its own accord. In fact, opinion polls show that the majority of Victor Orban’s supporters want the country to stay in the EU.

There are a dozen reasons for the EU’s stagnation. The rejection of the Constitution in 2005, the 2008 economic crisis, the influx of refugees, the rise of xenophobia, Brexit, and COVID-19 have caused the EU to face one problem after another. In this context, scenarios for the EU’s future have been put on the agenda. Hungary advocates for flexible integration within the EU. The Orban government is opposed to strengthening the supranational dimension of the EU. Governments, according to Budapest, should continue to make the final decisions. However, Hungary’s criticism focuses on other issues. The most common arguments are restrictions on press and association freedom and interference with the independence of the judiciary.

Another point of disagreement between Hungary and the EU is the decision-making mechanism. Hungary opposes the use of qualified majority voting instead of unanimity in foreign policy, migration, and taxation.

In Hungary, Orban’s Fidesz Party (Hungarian Civic Party) is a conservative right-wing political party. A coalition of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party won Hungary’s elections in April 2022. Elsewhere in Europe, populist right-wing parties are gaining strength. In Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party (FDL) won the elections on Sept. 25, 2022. In Spain, the right-wing Popular Party received the most votes, although it did not secure a majority to form a government. In France, the populist, far-right National Front (now known as the National Union), founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been gaining support from voters. The EU has so far only reacted to the Austrian Freedom Party becoming a coalition partner. In the case of Hungary, the EU’s de facto sanctions against the Orban government are worth noting.

Hungary – Türkiye strategic partnership

President Erdogan’s visit to Hungary put the close friendship and cooperation between the two countries back on the agenda. Hungarians are a nation of Turkish origin. In fact, Hungary later became an observer member of the Turkic Community, which was founded on Nov. 12, 2021. In May, before Türkiye’s presidential elections, Orban said, “I pray for Erdogan.”

This statement is remarkable because it shows the close cooperation between the two leaders. Today, the expansion of cooperation between Türkiye and Hungary has opened the door to a strategic partnership and its last example is the ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership. Türkiye and Hungary tacitly collaborated to ratify Finland’s membership and delay Sweden’s ratification process. Hungary supported Türkiye’s sensitivity regarding the delay of Sweden’s ratification due to its noncompliance with the provisions of the Tripartite Protocol.

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