Kurz and Orban’s Austria-Hungary: Migrants, ‘Paks’, and the Visegrad


On the 30th of January, Vienna was the scene of an official meeting between Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban and Austrian federal chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The main points of discussion were migrants, the future of the EU, and equipment for and the construction of ‘Paks-2’.

Relations between Kurz and Orban

Kurz and Orban have a lot in common, from a ‘right-wing’ political form to mutually beneficial cooperation on certain practical issues.

Kurz won a majority during the October parliamentary elections in Austria, and in December he reached a coalition agreement with the anti-migrant populist Freedom Party, which is led by Hein-Christian Strache. Strache became vice-chancellor and Kurz became federal chancellor. As Reuters noted, during the election campaign Strache even argued with Kurz about which of them has better relations with Orban. However, arguments are unnecessary: on the eve of his visit, Orban promised in a Facebook video that he would visit both leaders.

As exports note, Austria is now the only West-European country with a ‘very right-wing party’ in government. The same is said of the Orban government in the Eastern European area. His ‘Fidesz’ party was fairly liberal in the 90’s, but in the 2000’s its image changed and it slowly started shifting towards the right. Protests in 2006 and demands for a harder and more conservative course in 2010 also contributed to the rightward shift.

Today, Orban is the main fighter for Hungary’s national interests and for the country’s independence from several forced EU decisions (primarily on the migrant question). He is the initiator of a strengthening of the Visegrad group and is often compared to other strong leaders, like, for example, Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Kurz is less combative towards EU policy and is more loyal to Brussels, despite his right-wing orientation. The two leaders hold similar opinions on conservative issues, and competition in some other areas does not exclude mutually beneficial alliances.

Unifying factors

Both leaders are known for their tough position on migration issues. In 2015, the stream of refugees became a large problem for both Austria, which was then becoming one of the main ‘nurseries’ for refugees in Europe and took in amounts of migrants comparable to the number of native Austrians, as well as for Hungary, as courageous migrants crossed its territory as if they were wandering through a shopping mall. Until Orban closed a large section of the border with Serbia and did not challenge the EU on its planned quotas, both countries were on the edge of disaster.

Orban consequently speaks out against massive immigration in to Hungary and has more than once backed his position with a cultural argument alongside an economic one: the number of immigrants must be highly limited in order to protect Hungary’s sovereignty, culture, and Christian faith. In relation to this, there have been declarations about a refusal of the policy of migration quotes, which are enforced by the EU and dictate a number of refugees that a country must take in each year.


- The first point on which differences of opinion between Vienna and Budapest may appear is Poland. While Orban has set out on a strong vector of a maximal rapprochement with Warsaw on a whole series of questions, the Austrian leadership insists on several punitive measures against Poland for “threats to legality and democratic principles”. 

- The second point (and perhaps the most important) is the construction of the ‘Paks-2’ nuclear power station. The original ‘Paks’ is a Soviet inheritance which de facto secures the lion’s share of Hungary’s electricity. The preliminary cost of ‘Rosatom’s’ construction project to be executed jointly with Hungary was fixed in December 2014 at 12,5 billion euros. The beginning of the station’s construction is expected in 2018. Commercial exploitation will start either in 2025 or 2026.

Series differences of opinion can rear their head in the case of this issue: two days ago, Austria even turned to the European Criminal Court with a request to annul the Eurocommission’s approval of the construction of two new reactors. Vienna’s formal complaint is that nuclear energy is “neither a stable source of energy, nor an answer to climate change”. Other European states hold, that the deal is “not transparent” and that construction should thus be stopped.

In fact, what is really scaring Hungary’s Western neighbours is that the country will cooperate with Russia, receive investments, and gain relative economic independence away from the EU.

And where there is economic cooperation, the famous “Russian footprint” is also seen. The Hungarian leadership is now under very heavy pressure because of “cooperation with Russia”. Orban is not afraid to make statements about his good relations to Moscow; however, he must be careful.

- The third point on which Orban and Kurz’s opinions don’t coincide is the indexing of family allowances for children living abroad. This is related to the countries’ tax policies. This is about Hungarians who live in Austria with their children; for a long time, Vienna has been talking about stripping Hungarian new arrivals of their tax preferences.

The Visegrad

One question to be discussed is Austria’s potential participation in negotiations with the Visegrad Four (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia). Earlier, Kurz already made official visits to Paris, Brussels, and Berlin; now, as experts note, “he is turning to the eastern EU”.

It is important that Heinz-Christian Strache is in favour of close cooperation with the ‘Visegrad Four’ countries. What is also of interest, is that he insists on a normalisation of relations with Russia and has even made statements in favour of official recognition on the Crimea referendum.

According to many European experts, the very possibility itself of a potential rapprochement between Vienna and the ‘Visegrad’ forms a question of the formation of a new centre of power within the EU that can influence any destructive EU decisions (with the right coordination). However, according to some opinions, Kurz could become a 'Trojan horse’ within the Visegrad, seeing as he remains fairly loyal to the EU.

If we take into account cultural references to the Austro-Hungarian empire, it is worth it to note that the borders of the new political union in many ways coincide with those of the old. At the very least, Vienna and Budapest’s realist interests are to resists unpopular measures from Berlin, Brussels, and Washington whenever necessary. In this case, a lot depends on the future transformations of Kurz’s political orientation.

Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.