The EU, Hungary and Democracy

Kathleen McKinnon

Hungary is facing an election soon, but it is no longer news that the democracy in this European Country is “backsliding.” There is no shortage of issues with the democracy of this country and the rights that become compromised as it continues to move in a populist, right-winged direction. The country for some years, especially with the rise of the Fidesz party and Viktor Orban as its leader, has been heading in a direction of illiberalism and in opposition to core values of the EU, specifically liberal democracy which can easily slip into authoritarianism. For some reason, however, the European Union (EU) allows this to continue- not even in their backyard but right in one of their own Member States. European values are not only democratic but they ensure the protection of the people against tyranny and oppression. As can be seen in some recent moves by the Hungarian government, the slide into a non-democratic state looms closer. 

In light of the recent election, some focus has been put on observing what the Fidesz party is doing which has resulted in noticing some interesting legislation that furthers the illiberal state of the country. It is no surprise that the opposition parties are concerned with the recent vote by the party in government to set a two-thirds parliamentary threshold to dismiss the chief prosecutor. This is in the wake of many changes recently that the opposition parties say are to preserve Orban’s influence if in the upcoming election he is defeated. These efforts could result in Orban nominating an ally as Hungary’s president just before the elections. This means that democracy is further threatened in Hungary as Orban and his party take further measures to create a monopoly on power for their right-wing views even after they leave, if that happens. This type of manipulation of government is a corrupting factor and a worrisome indicator of how slowly but surely the country is losing its democratic features and what’s next maybe the loss of opposition parties altogether. The EU is alarmed at this matter but remains relatively unable to fix the situation through its own pressures. 

Viktor Orban’s party has been a right-wing thorn in the side of the EU and a symptom of a democratic issue in Eastern European Member States. Orban is quoted as saying “They would force us to be European, sensitive and liberal – even if it kills us” this shows how the European identity has been slipping in this country, and despite the benefits it receives from the EU, has become a skeptic of the values they are supposed to share. This is also a symptom that the far right is alive and well in Europe, so much so that the democratic charter of countries is not safe. And after the country has become illiberal, what does the EU have to say? In fact, the EU has been outspoken on the matter but little continues to be done. The EU is built on democracy and democratic values and now faces the new issue of what to do when this important foundation is being compromised. Especially since illiberal regimes have others as their allies within the EU, such as Poland, also outside, such as Russia (even now Hungry will be producing the Sputnik V vaccine). It is hard for the EU to find a mechanism strong enough to change the situation. However, something needs to be done even if little by little and being outspoken against the regime and its mechanisms are not enough. 

The EU has a duty to protect its citizens from illiberalism (everyone who is a citizen of an EU Member State is also a citizen of the EU), democracy was the deal Hungary signed on for when it joined the EU after all. Clearly, unless voted out, the Fidesz party will continue on its anti-EU trajectory and continue with its democratic backsliding as well. The situation shows how the issues of populism happening in the Eastern Member States need to be addressed by the EU, and although not easily done through the mechanisms in place for such issues, this compromises the integrity of what the EU is built on. 

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