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Good Timing for a New Improved European Friendship

Events are lining up so that the U.S. might find compelling an invigorated relationship with on-the-move Central European player — Hungary. Last weekend’s G-7 Summit, along with the recent historic meeting in D.C. between our Secretary of State and the Hungarian Foreign Minister, as well as a general “same page” vision of many priorities between government leaders of both nations means that Hungary has the potential to be an ever-more interesting ally for the U.S.

In the last days of May, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo welcomed to the State Department Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, the first meeting of a Secretary of State with a Hungarian official on U.S. soil in six years. The delay was a result of a marginalizing of Hungary by the Obama Administration. John Kerry refused to meet his Hungarian counterpart due to irreconcilable differences.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. The Pompeo meeting set the tone that, as other European partners are experiencing some bumps in the road of the Transatlantic relationship, for a myriad of reasons, Hungary refuses to join the chorus of dissent against the U.S., and, on the contrary, is motivated to step up cooperation.

During his visit with Secretary Pompeo, Foreign Minister Szijjarto said, “the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a ‘natural ally’ of the Trump administration, one that is willing to challenge the liberal orthodoxy within the European Union that has been sharply critical of his government and the Trump administration.” He added, “There is a hysteria in the European Union against the United States and especially against the current administration.With this visit, I wanted to stress that Hungary is not joining this hysteria.”

That message rings particular bells for the USA after the G-7 Summit last weekend for which, among other things, President Trump set a no-nonsense tone that the days are over of the U.S. being used as a global “piggy bank.” Reactions from other summit attendees ranged from measured to condemnatory of the U.S. after Trump, angered by trade policy that he views as unfavorable for the U.S. and perceiving Canada’s Trudeau (the Summit’s host) to have engaged in duplicitous statements, promised to boycott the Summit’s joint communiqué. This is particularly difficult for the other nations to swallow in light of the U.S.’ global power.

While it is impossible to imagine our traditional European allies withdrawing from the United States, considering the enormity of the trading relationship and the U.S.’ military strength, the current policy priorities of both Hungary and the United States mean that both nations might enjoy a deepening of ties. Most notable among these converging priorities includes both governments’ positions on security, immigration, and sovereignty.

In the current climate, it would be valuable for the Trump Administration to have supportive European partners. While not the economic or defense equals of France or Germany, Hungary and the Central European bloc it currently chairs, the Visegrad 4 (V4), have a common outlook to the current U.S. administration’s approaches, particularly with respect to matters of sovereignty, security, and commitment to anti-terrorism.

This approach, which targets better control of immigration, and in Hungary’s case, of building security walls, has unsurprisingly earned the scorn of European elites in Brussels and beyond, just as the Left fumes against Trump’s similar security measures.

These same elites wail against thrice democratically elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban in similar fashion to the media and progressive voices in America that criticize President Trump. In our topsy turvy world, globalists and multiculturalists (notable example: financier George Soros) demonize the kind of policies — by both Orban and Trump — that have made their respective nations stronger and more prosperous.

This is not to say that the U.S. is on board with all of the Orban government’s policies. Secretary Pompeo did take the opportunity to stress “the importance of maintaining a vibrant civil society… and the urgent need to help Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, including the importance of facilitating and supporting Ukraine’s engagement with NATO, and the need to counter Russian malign influence in Central Europe.” But one thing is clear, with enhanced engagement, concerns like these are more likely to be addressed constructively.

Indeed, Hungary represents hope that the U.S. has partners in Europe who share our concern to safeguard not only our citizens, but the very framework of Western Civilization. Hungary is unapologetically a Western nation, and serves notice to the world that, our Judaeo-Christian heritage — the most humane ethics and beliefs — must be preserved against emerging threats.

This concern is reflected by the fact that both nations enjoy good relationships with the democratic State of Israel. In fact, in yet another instance of Hungarian support for U.S. policy, Hungary and its V-4 neighbors recently blocked EU condemnation of the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

It is difficult even for America and Hungary’s critics to deny that its leaders are changing their nations, and the world. Bullies are on the run and economies are on the rise. With significantly aligned policy priorities, as well as the likelihood that Mr. Orban will continue to shape the European debate in ways favorable to the U.S., it is clear that engaging Hungary is a desirable foreign policy approach.

Lee Cohen is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Danube Institute in Budapest. He is also a Senior Fellow in European Affairs at the London Center for Policy Research in New York.

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