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Vladimir Putin has congratulated Hungary’s strongman Viktor Orbán on his decisive election victory, amid signs that European Union authorities will launch a sanctions process against Budapest meant to protect EU funds threatened by Member States in democratic regression.

Two members of the European Parliament have said they expect the European Commission to launch the ‘rule of law conditionality mechanism’ against Hungary, a legal proceeding that could ultimately disable billions in payments from the EU. EU in Budapest.

EU countries that have government-controlled courts and captured state institutions can be barred from EU funds, but the law has never been tested.

At the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday, MEPs expressed shock at Orbán’s victory speech, where he lashed out at ‘opponents’, including a characteristic dig at ‘Brussels bureaucrats’, but also the Ukrainian president , Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The blustering speech came just hours after the Western world reacted in horror to the atrocities in Bucha and other towns near kyiv.

On Monday, Putin praised Orbán, who is a longtime Kremlin ally, despite Hungary’s support for EU sanctions against Russia. “Despite the difficult international situation, the further development of a bilateral partnership is fully in line with the interests of the peoples of Russia and Hungary,” a Kremlin statement said.

Britain’s Nigel Farage, France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini were quick to congratulate Orbán. “When the people vote, the people win,” tweeted Le Pen, France’s far-right leader, who is fighting to oust Emmanuel Macron as president in an impending election.

EU leaders were remarkably quiet on a day when independent election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported that Hungary’s vote was “tainted by a lack of a level playing field “.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavskỷ, a key regional ally, said he was ‘not happy with the election result in Hungary’ but needed to ‘look for partners’ in his country’s interest . “Hungary must choose sides and find out whether it belongs to the EU and NATO,” he said.

German MEP Daniel Freund, a persistent critic of Orbán, said he expected the commission to trigger the rule of law mechanism within days. “I understand that the triggering of conditionality against Hungary could happen, possibly as early as this week,” he told reporters. “The financial pressure will start to be felt quite quickly if the commission moves,” he said, adding that even if the EU process takes months to unfold, it could be more difficult for Budapest to manage. To borrow money.

Petri Sarvamaa, a centre-right Finnish MEP, said his understanding was that the committee would trigger the process within days, but added that Hungary was asking much deeper questions. Europe could be approaching a historic moment, he said. “We are faced with existential problems. They are totalitarian authoritarian regimes vis-à-vis the democratic world and Orbán seems to want to be part of them [first] camp.”

“We appeased Viktor Orbán…and we, the union, appeased Vladimir Putin. And if we continue down this path… we will find ourselves obsolete.

László Andor, a former EU commissioner from Hungary, said he expected commission chair Ursula von der Leyen to be “hesitant” about the next steps. “Dealing with Hungary is not the best performance of the Von der Leyen commission,” he said. “There was a lot of procrastination.”

Andor, who is affiliated with the opposition Socialist Party, added: “For Hungary, it is obviously terrible to remain so severely in the grip of Orbán, and the political landscape also shows this massive division between Budapest and the rest. from the country”.

Orbán’s resounding victory was likely to boost his confidence against the EU, analysts predicted.

“He will be very sure of himself in his politics,” said Daniel Hegedüs, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, who also expects Orbán’s government to “simply steal political ideas from the radical right” after it emerged that the far-right Our Fatherland Party was due to enter parliament for the first time.

“Potentially, there would be a very pragmatic balancing act on the side of the European Commission: on the one hand, not pushing Hungary to block EU decision-making in the Council, but on the other hand … not to be too soft and too accommodating. It would be fatal if there were only lodgings.

Orbán will also have to mend fences with central European allies, who have criticized his refusal to help Ukraine with weapons or allow weapons to pass through Hungary. A meeting of four central European defense ministers was called off last week after the Czech defense minister accused Hungary of valuing “cheap Russian oil” over Ukrainian blood.

But there were signs of rapprochement between Warsaw and Budapest, when Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a supporter of tough sanctions on Russia, avoided criticizing Hungary for its opposition to an oil embargo. “Germany is the main obstacle to sanctions,” he said. “Hungary is for sanctions,” he said.

While Poland and Hungary are strongly opposed to their approach to Russia, the nationalist governments share common ground in their fight against Brussels for the rule of law. “Relations will be a little colder than before,” Hegedüs said. “But they also have areas of common interest and I think they will cooperate very closely in those areas.”

Dutch Liberal MP Sophie in ‘t Veld described Orbán’s re-election as “a disaster” for Hungarians. “It also means that he will sit on the European Council [of EU leaders] – a very powerful EU governance body that shapes the laws for all Europeans – like someone who was elected through rigged elections,” she said, as the OSCE published his critical report, pointing to “skewed” media coverage and the blurred line between party and state. “The scale of this problem must be taken into account,” said the MEP.

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