It was heartwarming to read the latest Policy Solutions study, “The Hungarian Public and the European Union,” by András Bíró-Nagy, Tibor Kadlót, and Ádám Köves. The 40-page study, chock full of data, was published with financial assistance from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
It doesn’t matter how hard Viktor Orbán has worked to poison the hearts and minds of the Hungarian people regarding the European Union, he hasn’t succeeded. His agitation against the EU, which has been going on for the last six years, has barely made a dent in the Hungarian people’s assessment of the European Union and its institutions. “Trust in the European Union” among Hungarians is still considerably higher than the EU28 average. It is true that in 2010 it was extremely high, 55% as opposed to the EU average of 42%, but five years later the majority of Hungarians still believe in the future of the European Union, which is quite a feat after years of government propaganda.
Hungarians overwhelmingly support the EU and its institutions and most would gladly see further integration, from a common foreign policy to a common defense. Almost 50% of Hungarians would like the euro to be the common currency of all 28 countries, as opposed to the Poles (34%) and Czechs (20%). Sixty-two percent would like to see a common foreign policy. (So, Hungarians don’t want to be a bridge between the EU and Russia!) A common defense is supported by 65%. Although Hungarians are less enthusiastic about a common immigration policy than the EU average, the majority (55%) still support it. And that means that the majority of the Hungarian population want more, not less integration, while the Hungarian government is moving in exactly the opposite direction.
And that’s not all. Despite Viktor Orbán’s nationalistic propaganda, merely 33% consider themselves to be only Hungarians, while the European Union average in this category is 41%. What a pitiful result after the hundreds of speeches extolling the primacy of the nation as the solution for all Hungary’s ills.
This last data point comes from an equally important, uplifting public opinion poll published by Medián, “The opinion of Hungarians and other Europeans about the Union” (Budapest, Spring 2016). It found, most importantly, that 77% of the population support Hungary’s membership in the European Union and only 19% oppose it, and–here comes the surprise–these are better figures than Medián reported in February 2015 (75% versus 24%). After a whole year spent on the migrant crisis, which, thanks to Angela Merkel and the bureaucrats in Brussels, the Hungarian government argued, would result in the disintegration of the European Union and its Islamization, these disobedient or perhaps “deaf” Hungarians still support the European Union.
Only 29% of Hungarians see any reason to hold a referendum on EU membership, as opposed to 58% of Italians, 55% of the French, and 40% of Germans. I wonder whether this also indicates that a large majority of Hungarians might not vote in the referendum that is being held on a bogus question, the compulsory settlement of migrants. If that is the case, “the message” Hungarians are supposed to send Brussels might not be the one the government wants.
At the same time, Hungarians’ trust in their own parliament has declined considerably. It is worth taking a closer look at this phenomenon. In 2010 only 46% of Hungarians had doubts about the competence of members of parliament, as opposed to the EU27 average of 60%. I assume this optimism had something to do with the great expectations that preceded Fidesz’s enormous electoral victory that year. But look at what happened five years later: 60% of Hungarians today have no trust in the parliament. The same is true about “trust in the national government.” Between 2010 and 2015 the percentage of those who have no trust in the Orbán government has risen from 41% to 61%. These are dramatic changes, especially if we look at the EU average for those two years, where there is no appreciable difference. The percentage of dissatisfied citizens was large in 2010 and it is large now (65%). The dramatic change that occurred in Hungary speaks volumes about disapproval of the Orbán government, something that has yet to show up in the monthly opinion polls.
As for European-wide institutions, Hungarians on the whole have greater trust in them than in the Hungarian parliament and government. In fact, when it comes to the European Parliament, 43% of the people think that in the future it should play a larger political role than it does currently. Although enthusiasm for the European Parliament was much higher in 2010 (61%), Hungarians are still more positive regarding it than are the citizens of other countries in the region (Slovakia 37%, Poland 40%).
As for optimism concerning the future of Europe, again, Viktor Orbán hasn’t succeeded in changing the opinions of Hungarians. The figures between 2010 and 2015 haven’t changed at all. About 50% are optimistic and 47% pessimistic, while the rest have no opinion.
What can we learn from all this? First, the Orbán government’s propaganda against the European Union hasn’t succeeded. Second, dissatisfaction with the current government would seem to be much greater than what we see on the surface. But dissatisfaction may not translate into change. The electoral law that Orbán’s government enacted to ensure its longevity will make that exceedingly difficult. Moreover, and even more important, as long as there is no viable alternative–just a fractured opposition–by default Hungarians will vote for the only force that, for better or worse, seems to be in a position to carry on with the affairs of state.