Foreign policy and defense
Hungary is a nation in Eastern Europe. Its capital city is Budapest. With membership in the EU and the NATO defense alliance, Hungary achieved two of its main foreign policy goals, after the last Soviet troops left Hungarian soil in 1991. Since 2010, when Hungary got a right-wing government led by the Fidesz Party, relations with the EU and several Western countries have deteriorated.. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has instead prioritized strengthening cooperation with Russia.
As a NATO member from 1999, Hungary has sent troops to NATO operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Hungary also joined the United States in the “war on terror” and participated with approximately 230 men in the US-led war in Iraq 2003-2004. Hungary applied for EU membership in 1994 and became a member on May 1, 2004, along with most other countries in the former so-called Eastern bloc. At the end of 2007, Hungary was also included in the Schengen cooperation, which meant, among other things, that passport controls were abolished on entry from most of the EU.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Hungary for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Since 2010, when the Fidesz government took office, relations with the EU have been strained. The EU has criticized the constitutional amendments, which were considered to threaten, among other things, freedom of expression and the rule of law, and Hungary’s actions in connection with the refugee crisis 2015–2016 also met with heavy criticism from the European Commission and many EU countries (see Current policy). Luxembourg went so far as to demand that Hungary be excluded from the EU for violations of democratic values and for refugees to be treated as “animals”. The UN and the Council of Europe also argued that Hungary’s action against refugees violated international law. During the UN’s work on an international agreement on migration, which led to an agreement in 2018, Hungary was one of the countries that did not want to support the agreement.
At the outbreak of the corona crisis in 2020, the willingness to cooperate was generally poor between the EU countries, but the fact that Viktor Orbán used the situation to acquire the almost dictatorial power over the Hungarians (see Calendar) has aroused the horror.
The EU has also seen with increasing concern how Prime Minister Orbán foreign policy has increasingly approached Russia. Despite the cooled relations between the EU and Russia following the Russian annexation of Crimea and the involvement in the Ukraine war of 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Orbán have continued to hold regular meetings. In the mid-2010s, the countries agreed that a Russian company will expand the nuclear power plant in Paks with the support of a loan of EUR 10 billion from Russia. The pack project was considered by critics to be open to Russian influence in Hungary. The fact that the details of the agreement had been kept secret, while no usual procurement process had taken place, led to speculation about corruption. The construction of the two reactors has been delayed, and they are not expected to be ready until 2030.
Relations with the United States were initially strained during Orbán’s time in power. The US criticized the Hungarian government for anti-democratic politics and in the fall of 2014, the US denied entry permits to six influential Hungarian citizens, including the head of the tax authority. The US authorities referred to a law that gives the right to exclude foreigners whose corrupt behavior is considered to harm American interests. Since Donald Trump became president of the United States and, among other things, sharpened US refugee policy, noises have changed. In 2019, Trump praised Orbán for “doing a good job”.
The Hungarian loss of large areas in the 1920 peace treaty (see Older history), which meant that a few million Hungarians became minorities in other countries, has characterized Hungary’s relations with neighboring countries. Hungary has seen it as its duty to support these Hungarian minorities, which has led to conflicts with Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, where a large proportion of Hungarians outside Hungary live.
Following the political upheavals of 1989–1990, the Hungarian minorities began to demand autonomy and cultural rights, demands which, to the neighboring countries’ concerns, also received support from Budapest. In particular, Romania and Slovakia linked Hungary’s protection of minorities with disguised Hungarian territorial requirements. Orbán’s government was quick in 2010 to offer Hungarians in the embrace both Hungarian citizenship and the right to vote in Hungarian elections. The Slovak Parliament responded by threatening to revoke Slovak citizenship for those who applied for citizenship “in another country”. In the 2014 election, 125,000 Hungarians voted in neighboring countries, more than 95 percent of whom were reported to have voted for Fidesz. When Viktor Orbán took office for a second term as Prime Minister in 2014, he demanded self-government for ethnic Hungarians in other countries.
Relations with Slovakia have also been strained due to a schism on a Danube power plant project called Gabcíkovo Nagymaros. In 1977, Hungary and then Czechoslovakia signed an agreement to redirect and contain the Danube. The Hungarians stopped the dam construction in 1989 due to growing domestic environmental criticism and three years later they also formally withdrew from the project. The Slovaks continued construction on their own. The conflict was brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which in 1997 ruled that both parties were guilty – the Hungarians for breaking an agreement and the Slovakians for continuing the work on their own. The countries were sentenced to pay each other damages and agreed on a continuation of the project where they would take into account both the economy and the environment. The question of the dam construction has not yet reached a definitive solution.
A measure of the Fidesz government’s interchangeability was given in the spring of 2020 with the expulsion of guest students from Iran, who were accused of spreading coronavirus. On the contrary, a few years earlier, Viktor Orban’s government had cultivated increased cooperation with Iran, which, among other things, led to a doubling of the number of Iranian students in Hungary during the years 2015–2018.
Being able to defend the country as well as having the capacity to join forces in major NATO operations and other international operations is an important part of defense policy. In the mid-2010s, NATO decided to place a smaller military headquarters in Hungary.
In 2001, the government decided to hire 14 JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft from Sweden. The decision was criticized from many directions for being a misnomer. Instead of hiring combat aircraft at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, the government should have improved the situation for the soldiers, including better equipment and accommodation, the critics felt. Despite an objection, a lease agreement that was concluded in 2006 has been extended and supplemented in 2012, so that Hungary can initially fly Gripen to 2026. The Gripen plan is upgraded and goes into Hungarian ownership when the agreement expires.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 10 450 men (2017)
The air Force: 5 750 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.1 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 2.1 percent (2017)