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How to Occupy Brussels?

In a recent speech at the National Museum, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán emphasized the country's quest for respect and sovereignty within the European Union.
"By compromising, we have demonstrated that if we receive respect, we reciprocate and create a peaceful and prosperous era as far as the eye can see. It seems, however, that Brussels alone refuses to understand this. Therefore, if we wish to maintain Hungary's freedom and sovereignty, we have no choice but to occupy Brussels. In 1848, we stopped at Schwechat. Not this time. We will march to Brussels and make the change in the European Union ourselves. We are no novices; as a state with 1,100 years of experience, we are seasoned and resilient, knowing exactly how to enter the gates and reorganize the European Union. It's time for the regency council in Brussels to take notice," Orbán said on March 15th.

Orbán has long advocated for Hungary not to conform to the political expectations of the West but to transform them instead. This is an ambitious goal for a ten-million-member state with increasingly few allies in the European Union. Thus, it's worth considering what practical steps Hungary could take to achieve this political intent.

On June 9, 2024, two significant elections will be held. However, Orbán's speech mainly emphasized the European Parliament elections, with little mention of the municipal elections. The conquest of Brussels, or rather, the takeover of political power, is undeniably more about the former.

The European Parliament is composed of 705 representatives from 27 member states. The largest bloc is the European People's Party, which Fidesz was once part of before leaving ahead of potential expulsion. The European Commission, which roughly serves as the government of Europe, needs the support of over half of these 705 representatives to lead the EU effectively. Although the Parliament does not initiate legislation that power belongs solely to the European Commission the Parliament's approval is required to adopt laws, usually by a simple majority. Even the election of the Commission requires this majority.

Currently, the Parliament's leading coalition comprises three parties:

- The European People's Party (EPP),

- The Socialists and Democrats,

- The liberal Renew Europe,

holding a total of 429 mandates out of 705. This centrist coalition is regularly supported by parts of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which is right of the EPP but shares a stance against Russia and an Atlanticist view, and some independents.

Without a party family, Fidesz has little influence in Parliament. Being part of a smaller delegation could potentially boost their standing. Two possibile alliances include the ECR and the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, the latter comprising more radical right-wing parties and being less hostile towards Russia. Orbán has tried to unite these right-wing factions, but fundamental disagreements, particularly regarding Russia, and internal competition within countries have hindered this effort.

Poll aggregators like Politico's Poll of Polls suggest the ID could grow significantly in the upcoming elections. However, even with potential gains, achieving a dominant position seems unlikely due to the extensive diversity of electoral systems and political cultures across the 27 member states. Radical shifts seem improbable, leaving little chance for a "conquest of Brussels" at the Parliament level.

An alternative route to influence might be the European Council, where the heads of state or government of EU countries meet. Orbán's recent speech also pointed out potential political shifts in several countries which could change the balance of power in his favor. However, many significant nations, with elections that could more seriously impact the continent's direction, such as Germany and France, won't vote this year.

Therefore, the pathway to "occupying Brussels," as Orbán suggests, remains uncertain. While there may be opportunities for Hungary to lessen its isolation, achieving significant influence in the European Union through electoral means appears challenging.

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