The Walkway to Nowhere: A Monument to Hungary’s Patronage Politics

Eager to get a small piece of the billions of euros provided to his country by the European Union, a mayor in eastern Hungary applied for money to build a “treetop canopy walkway” that would provide panoramic views of the forest outside his village.

Hungarian officials responsible for distributing European money liked the idea and in 2021 approved a grant worth about $175,000. The elevated walkway, in the village of Nyirmartonfalva, near the border with Romania, now stretches for nearly 100 yards, next to a wooden observation tower.

There’s just one problem: The mayor, a supporter of Hungary’s governing Fidesz party who owns the land where the treetop walkway was built last year, cut down all the trees and sold them for wood before construction started. So the treetop walkway looks out on an expanse of empty dirt.

The project is one of tens of thousands undertaken in Hungary under programs funded by the European Union to help narrow the economic gap between the bloc’s richer, original members in the west and newer entrants, particularly those in the east.

But even as he has railed against Brussels over what he sees as its meddling in Hungary’s internal affairs, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made lavish use of such E.U. funds to direct cash and other benefits to his political allies.

Tipped off by a hiker who last year stumbled on the looming wooden structure marooned on a patch of empty land, Akos Hadhazy, an opposition legislator, aided by news outlets critical of the government, has turned the walkway into a cause célèbre.

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