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Report highlights Orbán’s ‘authoritarian tendencies’

Strategic communications consultancy Portland has released its annual Soft Power 30 Index. In the fourth edition of the report, Hungary climbed three places, becoming the biggest mover on this year’s list. There are shortcomings, however.

The Soft Power 30 Index, compiled by Portland in partnership with the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, is a ranking of the top 30 countries around the world (out of a full data set of 60), based on a composite index that measures and compares the resources that account for a country’s soft power. The ranking, published once a year, was launched in 2015.

The index combines both objective data across six categories (Government, Culture, Education, Global Engagement, Enterprise, and Digital) and international polling on seven factors, providing a comprehensive framework for the comparative analysis of soft power.

"Soft power is a critical foreign policy tool for our age of interdependence and global challenges," said Jonathan McClory, Partner at Portland and author of the report. "It will be of utmost importance for the U.K. to leverage its well-balanced set of strong points in the run-up to Brexit and immediately after," he noted.

"Most European countries have either remained in the same position or have gone up in the rankings, which is a strong signal that Europe continues to be a bedrock of global soft power, even though it might be battling internal divisions," McClory observed. "The U.S.’s fall down the rankings illustrates how the Trump administration’s protectionist and nationalist approach to foreign policy is detrimental to American soft power," he added.

Compared to previous years, Hungary continues to rank poorly in the Education, Culture, and Government sub-indices.

"Although [Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán’s vocal opposition to the EU’s immigration policy will have won him some admiration globally, his continued right-wing rhetoric comes at the expense of Hungary’s many other tangible soft power assets," notes the report.

"The government should now turn its attention to promoting the more positive aspects of Hungarian culture, increase investment in education, and attempt to address concerns around Orbán’s authoritarian tendencies," the report recommends.

On the positive side, the report notes that Hungary continues to perform strongly in the Digital sub-index, rising four places to 11th.

"This is a definitive sign that the government is making effective use of its digital diplomacy tools and that Hungarian citizens are increasingly interconnected in the digital environment," it says, although adding that "if these positive assets cannot be effectively leveraged to help address other shortcomings, Hungary’s rise is likely to be short-lived."

Portland also gives recommendations for Hungary.

"As Orbán turns towards a fourth consecutive [sic] term in office, much effort will be needed to shift global perceptions and convince critics that the Central European nation is not heading down an authoritarian path," it observes. "The government must work hard to demonstrate that Hungary remains a key member of the international system, has a varied and exciting cultural offering, a young, bilingual workforce, and a robust, outward facing economy."