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Hungary’s populist Orbán to take over EU presidency as many issues hang in the balance

When Hungary takes over the helm of the European Union on July 1, many politicians in Brussels will have the same thing on their minds: whether populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will use the role to further his reputation as the bloc's main spoiler.

Orbán in recent years has seemed to relish opportunities to block, water down or delay key EU decisions, routinely going against the grain of most other leaders on issues like the war in Ukraine, relations with Russia and China, and efforts to defend democracy and the rule of law.

His public opposition to EU policies and stances has long frustrated his partners in the bloc and pushed him to the margins of the continent's mainstream. Hungary's motto for its presidency — Make Europe Great Again — raised eyebrows for its resemblance to the famous tagline of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The EU presidency rotates among its member countries, and while the post holds little real power, it does allow countries to put their priorities high on Europe's agenda.

Now, as Hungary resides over the 27-nation bloc for the coming six months, it will likely keep up its anti-EU rhetoric, said Dorka Takácsy, a research fellow at the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy.

But the timeline of its presidency — beginning with a lengthy summer break and a transitional period of forming a new European Parliament and executive commission — will give Budapest few opportunities to derail the bloc's priorities significantly, she said.

"These six months are altogether not that long, which means that ... Hungary cannot do potentially much harm, even according to the critics," Takácsy said.

As Hungary's takeover approached, leaders in Brussels rushed to push through important policy decisions