The EU’s answer to Donald Trump is Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary. Long regarded as a maverick, the ultra-right wing 60-year-old is constantly fighting threats from Brussels to slash his funding due to concerns about democracy and freedom of the press in Hungary.

But rather than take the Eurosceptic Brexit route to leave the bloc, Orbán is gearing up for a head-on confrontation with the EU. He is determined to ‘drain the swamp’, to borrow Trump’s parlance. In a recent TV interview Orbán said: “It’s not enough to be angry. We need to take over Brussels.” On Hungary’s national day on March 15, he told a rally in Budapest: “If we want to retain Hungary’s freedom and sovereignty, we must occupy Brussels and bring change to the European Union”.

He has sent shivers down the spines of the Brussels elite, who recognise that this is no empty threat. Hungary takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in July, hot on the heels of an anticipated surge in votes for right-wing populist parties in the June European elections. Viktor Orbán will be at the helm.

Teams of builders are hurrying to finish the total refurbishment of a huge, 18th century mansion in the heart of Brussels, already dubbed "Hungary House". It will be the headquarters for Orbán and his army of followers who want to rattle the EU’s cage. It is also likely to be a place of pilgrimage for ultra-right populists like Nigel Farage, who, as one of Orbán’s great admirers, once, in a speech in Strasbourg, famously savaged the European Commission for daring to lecture the Hungarian PM on democracy. Farage reminded the European Parliament that Hungary had emerged, “after dark decades of communism”, to freely elect Orbán with more than 50% of the popular democratic vote, in sharp contrast to the “un-elected” and un-democratic European Commission.

Orbán is also likely to become the cheerleader for the other populist parties aiming for success in the European elections, such as the National Rally (formerly National Front) in France, led by Marine Le Pen and Lega Nord in Italy, led by Matteo Salvini, or the far-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party led by Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s current Prime Minister. Indeed, after Orbán threatened to veto a €50 billion (£43 bn) EU aid package to Ukraine earlier this year, it was Giorgia Meloni who used her long-standing relationship with the Hungarian PM to persuade him to agree the deal.

READ MORE: Trump's return: why the world is holding its breath

READ MORE: Could the UK join a new multi-speed Europe?

Other ultra-right parties that already have a foothold in the European Parliament and look set to poll well in June are Alternative for Germany (AfD), known for its anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic platform, as is the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which has a similar nationalist and anti-immigrant agenda. All of which chime closely with Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party in Hungary, which claims to follow Christian Democrat principles, but in fact is a blatant clone of Trumpian anti-woke, anti-gender-theory, anti-climate change, anti-establishment, and pro-traditional-family-values policies.

Since his re-election for a fifth time in April 2022, Orbán has been flexing his muscles on the world stage. Unassailable at home, he now sees himself in true Trump-style, as the EU’s main disrupter, jetting around the globe in search of new allies. Last year he visited China, Qatar, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Serbia, Egypt, Georgia and Argentina, rubbing shoulders with autocratic leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Ilham Aliyev and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Inevitably, in May 2021, when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister, Orbán was warmly welcomed to Downing Street. The visit led to an outcry when the Hungarian PM defended his anti-immigration record on BBC TV, standing by earlier remarks where he called Muslim migrants “invaders”, claiming they had destroyed the Hungarian border and “marched through the country.”

Commenting this month on his friend Donald Trump’s claim that he will end the Ukraine war in 24 hours if he is re-elected as President in November, Orbán told Hungary's M1 TV channel: "It is obvious that Ukraine cannot stand on its own feet. If the Americans don't give money and weapons, along with the Europeans, then the war is over. And if the Americans don't give money, the Europeans alone are unable to finance this war. And then the war is over." It is perhaps a perception of the reality of that statement that drove British Foreign Secretary David Cameron to pay a surprise visit to Trump in his Mar-a-Lago headquarters in Florida on April 8, pleading with him to persuade Republicans in the US Congress to unblock the aid package to Ukraine.

The Herald: Giorgia MeloniGiorgia Meloni (Image: Getty)

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) predicts that the EU elections in June will see the bloc shift significantly to the right, with populist radical right parties gaining votes and seats in the 720-member European Parliament, and centre-left and green parties losing votes and seats. The ECFR says that Eurosceptic populists are likely to top the polls in nine member states (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia) and come second or third in a further nine countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden). This will lead to a situation where a populist right coalition of Christian democrats, Conservatives, and radical right MEPs could emerge with a majority for the first time, with major consequences for European policies, particularly on immigration and environmental issues, where the new coalition is likely to oppose ambitious EU plans to tackle climate change.

It will be almost the antithesis of what may happen in Britain following an anticipated election later this year, when the UK could swing to the centre-left. A newly-elected Labour Government, under Keir Starmer, may find it increasingly difficult to improve post-Brexit relations with the right-wing populist EU.

Such an outcome will be music to the ears of Viktor Orbán, who will see himself as the new strongman of Europe, usurping the traditional roles occupied by the French President or the German Chancellor. In March the Hungarian leader said: “I haven’t seen such a good opportunity for national, conservative, sovereigntist and Christian-based forces to become dominant in the European Union in a long time”. Borrowing from his American hero Donald Trump, he said on social media: “Make Europe Great Again! Over there MAGA, over here MEGA”.

Struan Stevenson represented Scotland in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014