News Brief

EU Parliament Bloc Gives Hungary an Ultimatum: Stop Fake News

The dispute between the European Union’s most powerful political bloc and the Hungarian government could reach breaking point this week over Hungary’s incendiary information war against the European project.

The European People’s Party, the EU Parliament’s largest faction, gave Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling party an ultimatum: stop disseminating anti-EU propaganda, or face ejection from the EPP.

The warning delivered Tuesday was prompted by Hungary’s media tirades against immigration and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Europe’s rising concern about Orban’s authoritarian policies at home, including crackdowns against government opponents such as billionaire George Soros.

Orban’s chief to staff told the EPP delegation that the information war would wind down. Last week Hungarian State Secretary Zoltán Kovács tweeted that the anti-migrant campaign condemning Brussels would end March 15.

The Europeans are still waiting to see if Orban’s party complies.

As of Wednesday, Reuters reported Hungarian pro-government media was continuing to publish anti-EU messages in full-page newspaper advertisements and in segments on state television.

The EPP, a center-right grouping made up of more than 70 political parties, is divided over the membership of Fidesz, Orban’s hard-right party.

In December, Juncker singled out Orban when he said the EU must look at their own leaders as well as Russia as potential threats to democratic norms. “Some of the prime ministers sitting around this table, they are the origin of fake news,” Juncker said. “When Mr Orban for example says that migrants are responsible for Brexit, it’s fake news.”

Hungary has one of the most aggressively anti-immigrant policies in Europe. In 2018, NGOs estimated the country allowed in just two asylum seekers per day. At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, Hungary received over 65,000 asylum applications, second in the EU only to Germany. In the same year, Orban built a 109-mile militarized fence along its border with Serbia and Croatia in an attempt to stop migrants and refugees crossing into Hungary via the so-called “Balkan route.”

Orban’s close relationship with Vladimir Putin, and the resulting close alignment of state narratives, is also a divisive issue for EU leaders. In October 2017, a study by the Warsaw Institute showed how Hungarian mainstream media were apt to disseminate pro-Kremlin conspiracy theories.

“There is tremendous concern that Russia is basically using Hungary as an intel forward operating base in NATO and the EU,” a former official from the U.S. Embassy in Budapest told Politico in 2017.

In February, the European Commission published a report entitled “Facts Matter” condemning Orban’s campaign and labelling it fake news. The report said Orban’s messaging “distorts the truth and seeks to paint a dark picture of a secret plot to drive more migration to Europe.”