TEPSA Brief: “Unintended consequences: how the EU’s electric vehicle battery strategy supports autocracies”, Andrea Éltető

In coherence with the EU’s electric vehicle strategy, Hungary shot forward in the race. Asian companies build enormous capacities in the country, but at large cost for local people. The entanglement of Hungarian and Chinese autocracy within the EU is not without dangers.

Many observers have argued that the European Union (EU) has helped the formation and sustainability of illiberal, autocratic systems in Hungary and Poland. Kelemen describes this as an “autocratic equilibrium” based on the characteristics of the EU’s internal politicisation, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and financial transfers, and emigrants’ remittances. In 2022, following the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the fifth re-election of the Orbán government (once again gaining a parliamentary supermajority), the European Commission’s attitude began to show some changes: conditions on financial transfers to Hungary were hardened in reaction to corruption and the declining rule of law situation. Patience and trust towards the Orbán regime has decreased, and Hungary has become politically more and more isolated in the EU. Orbán, however, tries to play the ace up his sleeve given to him by a central aim of the EU’s star economic policy: electromobility. Climate change and decarbonisation have required strict and comprehensive measures from the decision-makers in the EU, a part of which is the sale of new vehicles to electric-only vehicles (EV) from 2035 and the Fit-for-55 package. Consequently, all European automotive companies strive for the mass production of electric vehicles, which makes the mass production of EV batteries vital.