EU holds its breath as Hungary’s Orban vows to ‘Make Europe Great Again’

Hungary’s pro-Kremlin leader Viktor Orban takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, just weeks after fellow nationalist and populist parties surged across the bloc in European polls. Hungarian diplomats have promised a “normal” presidency over the coming six months, while experts note that the role carries limited powers. But Orban’s choice of slogan for the job suggests the EU’s serial provocateur is unlikely to shun the spotlight.

The EU’s six-month rotating presidencies, when member states take turns steering the bloc, tend to come and go without most people noticing. For diplomats in Brussels, however, the upcoming handover will be anything but business as usual.

At midnight on Sunday, current president Belgium, which hosts the bloc’s principal institutions, will pass the baton to Hungary, the country that has acquired a reputation as the EU’s perennial spoiler under hard-right populist leader Viktor Orban.

That prospect has raised alarm bells among EU leaders, who have long wrangled with the Hungarian champion of “illiberal democracy”, an ally of the Kremlin who has been a constant thorn in Brussels’ side.

“Around 40% of all EU decisions on Ukraine are blocked by Hungary,” an exasperated Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, told reporters in late May.

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