Hungary's Orbán launches EU election campaign with pledge to 'occupy Brussels'

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Friday painted a grim picture of a continent teetering on the edge of armed conflict in a speech opening his party's campaign for European Union elections. He called for a changing of the guard among the bloc's leaders.

As Orbán addressed members of his Fidesz party at the closed-door event in Hungary’s capital Budapest, he lashed out at the EU. He characterized it as an oppressive force that had made its member countries active participants in the war in Ukraine.

“They see the war as their own war, and they fight it as if it’s their own war,” Orbán said of EU leaders. No EU country has engaged its soldiers in the war in Ukraine.

“The leadership in Brussels has to go," Orbán said. "It does not deserve another chance. There must be change in Brussels.”

The long-serving Orbán goes into June's EU elections facing significant challenges at home and abroad, including the recent resignations of senior Hungarian officials and a battered economy struggling under the weight of billions in funding the EU has withheld from Hungary over rule-of-law and corruption concerns.

His party's campaign event Friday was uncharacteristically short, lasting only around 45 minutes at a venue in central Budapest which independent media were not permitted to attend.

Orbán's speech, which lasted around 15 minutes, relied heavily on themes he has campaigned on for years: a rejection of immigration, hostility to LGBTQ+ rights and claims that the EU has sought to impose its will on Hungary.

“We must occupy Brussels, push aside the Brussels bureaucrats and take matters into our own hands,” he said to applause.

A right-wing nationalist who has ruled Hungary for 14 years, Orbán has been critical of governments that supply Ukraine with money and weapons to assist it in fending off Russia's full-scale invasion.

Hungary has refused to provide such assistance, and has argued against passing EU sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.

Orbán has long charged countries that support Ukraine as being “pro war,” and sought to portray his government as the only one in the EU that favors peace. Yet many of his critics have accused him of serving Russian interests by extending energy deals with Moscow and holding up aid packages to Kyiv.

In closing his speech, Orbán unveiled his party’s “election manifesto,” which envisions a resurgence of right-wing forces in the 27-member bloc.

If the EU's current leadership remains, the manifesto reads, “Europe will be plunged into war, migration waves will destroy European nations, and gender propaganda will ruin the future of our children.”

EU elections are set to take place on June 6-9.