The Chain Bridge in Budapest
A recent article on Hungary’s foreign policy talks about the reorientation of Hungary’s foreign policy from the EU towards China, Russia and the US.
In the light of a weakening European Union and a less reliable NATO, Budapest is reassessing its position in Europe. A more centralised control of domestic politics and a more independent foreign policy are key parts of this strategy, as is maintaining tense relations with Brussels without forcing a formal break. Neither Brussels nor Budapest is willing to cut ties. The European Union knows that losing a member would only worsen its political crisis, and Hungary depends on the export markets EU membership affords.
The second element of Orbán’s strategy is to incorporate more players into the game, which involves pursuing a more multidimensional foreign policy. Between 2011 and 2013, Hungarian and Chinese officials held several meetings to enhance bilateral trade and technical cooperation. But while Hungarian exports to China have almost doubled in the past five years, China is only Hungary’s fifteenth most important exports destination, and Chinese investment in Hungary is not arriving as fast as expected.
Hungary is also seeking to improve its relations with Russia and the United States. In late January, Orbán visited Moscow for the first time since 2009, and Russian President Vladimir Putin promised more Russian investment and cooperation with Hungary. Hungary depends on Russia for two-thirds of its natural gas; Russia also supplies oil and nuclear fuel to Hungarian power plants. The Hungarians have not forgotten that only 25 years ago they were dominated by the Soviet Union, but Moscow has three things Brussels does not: money, natural resources and a disinterest in whether or not its partners implement institutional reforms.
Hungary’s governing Fidesz party does not like the fact that the European Union is trying to safeguard Hungary’s fragile democracy and thus rather seeks to strengthen its ties with countries not known for their reputation as democracies, China and Russia, and the US in it’s ‘export of democracy’. Then, I guess, “it’s the economy, stupid”.
I would argue that Hungary has a lot more to lose by playing the game its playing with the EU, than it would be a loss for the EU.
As for Hungary’s trade relations with the EU, about 80% of Hungary’s exports and 70% of its imports go to other EU member states.