Ujhelyi on Index: Are Orbán’s People Pushing for Balkans EU Enlargement for Their Private Businesses?

„The Balkans are the next great opportunity for the EU (…) Western Europeans cannot maintain their standard of living without the integration of the Balkans,” this is what Fidesz Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at a recent event, but it is not the only quotable sentence from him calling for a boost to EU accession in the Balkans, alongside some Brussels-bashing and EU nose-wiping.

Most recently, he alluded to this in his rather muddled and feeble State of the Nation address, when he said that „enlargement has become a communication tool for current political goals in the interests of the Ukrainians, rather than an objective process based on merit – and in the meantime Brussels has left the Balkans behind as it is, because Ukraine needs the money.” I won’t even mention the bashing of the Ukrainians now, being incredibly undignified, and I have already explained in more detail in a recent Index piece why it is Orbán’s policies that most often stall EU enlargement in the Balkans. But it is becoming increasingly obvious why Orbán and the NER are pushing so hard for the accession of the Balkans: because of their own businesses, of course.

Let’s start at the beginning and clarify a few important things on this topic, just to be clear. Contrary to Viktor Orbán’s statement seriously stretching the truth: the enlargement of the European Union is anything but a means of communication for political purposes. Enlargement, in other words, accession to the EU, has its own very complicated process, and even Fidesz itself knows full well that Ukraine does not enjoy any special privileges in this process. Not least because, precisely because of the complexity of the lengthy process, Member States have a right of veto at several decision points, so the Hungarian Government can still mess with the Ukrainians on several counts if it so wishes. As for Orbán’s claim that Brussels has abandoned the Balkans, we only have to look at the countries with which accession negotiations have started: currently, in addition to Turkey, Ukraine and Moldova, the recently extended list includes Northern Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania; and with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also has candidate status, talks could also start in March, according to my information.

Without going into too much detail, and without trying the patience of those who have been following me, it is worth mentioning that it was less than two years ago that the Council of the European Union ( so yes, including the Hungarian government) agreed to speed up the accession process. They did not decide to abandon the Balkans, but to speed up the negotiations. Quite rightly, in my view, because, as I indicated in an earlier piece, there is a real danger that if the EU cannot fill the political vacuum in the Balkans, someone else will – and that is certainly not in the interests of either the European Community or a Hungarian government with decent intentions. Well, then, what is this double talk from Orbán again, or as the megaphone alpha males call him, ‘Daddy’?! What we see and understand is that the Fidesz government has adopted the position of the loud ‘B centre football hooligans’ among those who want the Balkan countries to join the EU.

However, things don’t add up. On the one hand, they are taking a series of decisions that contribute to the destabilisation and disintegration of the region, thus seriously hampering progress. One only has to mention the rather peculiar rescue and harbouring of former Macedonian Prime Minister Gruevski, or the continued support for the strongly pro-Russian Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. Moreover, Orbán’s Brussels-bashing outbursts are incomprehensible if only because the Fidesz prime minister regularly forgets to add to his remarks about the EU’s abandonment of the Balkans that the EU Commissioner for Enlargement is none other than his own delegate and confidant, Olivier Várhelyi.

Yes, yes, of course, we know that EU Commissioners are independent of the governments that delegate them, according to the rules, but not even a six-year-old can seriously believe that Orbán has no influence over Várhelyi’s actions. (By the way, Commissioner, if you’re reading this, or your colleagues are excerpting this bit for you: I am still waiting for a fair and precise response from you to my letter on the government’s anti-EU consultation, which you have so far quietly avoided) And I won’t even bother mentioning that Commissioner Várhelyi, on behalf of the European Commission – and through it the entire European Community, including the Hungarian Government – is now calling the applicant countries to account for the very strict European values and rule of law criteria that the current Hungarian Government has stamped on with both feet and violated for its own pleasure. How peculiar that if the current Hungary were to apply for membership in the EU with the other Balkan countries, we would certainly not be admitted because of the trampling on the rule of law and European values.

So where does the push for the Balkans’ accession come from with Orbán and his people? I add again: a rightful advocacy. The answer is quite simple: the NER profiteers have spent years of public money-grabbing to acquire substantial interests in the region, the value and returns on which will obviously soar if EU accession becomes a reality. Let us hasten to add that there is nothing special, indeed, nothing diabolical, about a country seeking to strengthen its political and economic influence in its neighbours. Especially if it does so in an emerging country on a growth trajectory; a smart long-term investment and goodwill gesture at the same time.

However, what the NER has bought for itself in the shadows – essentially using resources that have lost their public money character – goes far beyond what is geopolitically logical. Most recently, Péter Magyar hinted in an interview with Partizán that Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law (or his company) had acquired a considerable amount of real estate in Belgrade, for example; according to the investigative press, he bought eleven office buildings, over 100,000 square metres, in five different business hubs.

Tiborcz and his gang are no strangers to the area, with consortia in Serbia once winning public lighting tenders worth nearly HUF 8 billion, at least one of whose members was linked to the famous Elios. But 4iG, which is part of Fidesz’s economic holdings and has been beefed up in Hungary with state orders and subsidies, recently bought Telenor in Montenegro, just as Lőrinc Mészáros developed a hotel in the same Balkan country with Hungarian state support worth HUF 1 billion.

The list could go on and on, but to raise the stakes a little higher at the end, I would like to remind you that the Orbán government is providing 45 billion forints (!) of extremely cheap loans through Eximbank to the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is playing a significant role in the instability of the region. The 45 billion in aid is to be repaid over ten years, with a one-year grace period and an annual interest rate of five per cent (!): such super-bailout packages are only usually granted by sovereignty champion Orbán to political actors such as the French far-right Le Pen’s party. Normal Hungarians should not even dream of such conditions.

So to sum up: I am very much in favour of enlargement and of our shared homeland being the link between Europe and the Balkans. In the meantime, the Prime Minister of Fidesz continues to bash the European Union for the fact that the Balkan Member States have not yet joined the EU, while the process has already been accelerated, and his own man is responsible for enlargement policy. In fact, behind the NER’s excited anticipation is a desire to reap as much of the shady private businesses as possible, rather than to promote the interests of the European Community. Let’s just say that we have grown accustomed to Orbán’s words being about as credible as a government that pardons child abusers but advertises itself as family-friendly on billboards.

The following article was published on Index.hu on 23/02/2023.

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