September 16, 2018
By the adoption (?) of the European Parliament report on triggering the ‘Article 7 procedure’ against Hungary, a convincing political majority has been forced agreeing on the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach of the European values. Damning statement. Why did Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán provoked this precedent? What are the implications for the country? What hope – if any – could this political red card bring to the civil society, minorities and political oppostion in Hungary?
What is the relevance of condemning an illiberal EU democracy?
The EP confirmed that it is able to find common, value based causes which can bring together different political groups from various countries. This is a refreshing exemption in the dry and interest led political world. The most tectonic tension about that vote were in the European People’s Party (EPP) to which Orbán’s Fidesz formally still belongs. It took them a while to swallow the frog by drawing a red-line and applying it to the Hungarian illiberalism. Obviously, the political rationality worked very well: in light of the Brexit vote, the rising anti-immigration and anti-European forces (Italy, Austria, Poland), an unpunished Hungarian authoritarian drift can further weaken the mainstream political forces in Europe. It seems that ahead of the European Parliamentary elections, keeping Orbán in the club would do more harm than good.
Hidden agenda of Viktor Orbán?
That report has been voted because Viktor Orbán wanted it. Less clear are his motivations. It is obvious that the tone of the debate and the approach of the Hungarian Prime Minister pre-determined the outcome. His speech and behaviour indicated that he was preparing for loosing. The illiberal tendencies have started in 2010 (some can argue that even in 2006 and the corruption even earlier) and so far he managed to escape any meaningful sanction and consequence by convincing and securing many times the support and political protection of the EPP. But this time he went too far and would not or could not accept the conditions of the mainstream EPP line.
Either he has a secret plan or just follows his domestic policy approach in Europe. He may expect the weakening of the old parties and prepare for a new, anti-immigration political group in the EP or he can not change on his stand against NGOs and ‘foreign agents’ anymore. All of his decisions are led by the requirements of the domestic Hungarian policy to keep the power. It seems it would be very difficult for him to fundamentally change his mind and allowing more pluralism in the Hungarian media, civil and political life.
Negative consequences for Hungary
Internationally, the government represents the country. Therefore, it is a useless polemic who is hurt in the debate: Viktor Orbán personally or Hungary. We like it or not: Hungary and the Hungarian society will suffer the negative consequences. Authoritarian tendencies, mentioned in the report will be kept and increased. The lobby power in the EU ahead of the EU budget negotiations will be significantly weaker. Investors may also think that it is not worth investing to somewhere where there is no rule of law and predictability anymore.
Can minority, civil and opposition forces protected from Europe?
The report will have rather an indirect impact on Hungarian citizens and its potential is only to create a favourable European context for local, Hungarian forces to peacefully act.
Let’s have no illusions! Like in the past, especially in 1848, 1920, 1947 and 1956, Western countries did not support democratic forces and let the Hungarian progressive forces – basically – alone. It is only the domestic, Hungarian movement which can initiate change in the political course, but the European scene is this time rather supportive for this.
Minorities such as Roma, the Jews, LGBT people and the poor may have better or worse outcomes, depending on the political interests of the government.
The adoption of the report does not exempt NGOs from the scope of the ‘Stop Soros’ legislation but definitely give them courage to stand up opression pratices and will raise pressure on the government to ensure a healthy civil society which can be the catalyst for the Hungarian society on its way back to democracy and rule of law.
As regards the political opposition, they are even weaker than they were after the May 2018 national elections. One opposition party (belonging to the Greens) officialy declared since then that it supports the government on migration and it is now the opposition of the opposition. Its representative did not vote in favour of the report. But history teaches us that no regime change can happen from abroad or from emigration. Only new, energetic, credible and mature opposition forces can overturn the political rules in the country and there is no such movement identified yet. A long way to go…
The report was adopted by a 2/3 majority of the votes casted on 12th September 2018. Abstentions did not count. This is the (?) above: the Hungarian counter-argumentation was questioning the validity of the vote to avoid any meaningful debate about the report and its findings. Tactically it can temporarily work (more in Hungary, less in Europe) but soon or later concerns should be addressed, questions should be answered: the moment of Truth will come.
About the Sargentini-report
Its full title is a Report (4th July 2018) on a proposal calling on the Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded (2017/2131(INL))
The concerns of Parliament relate to the following issues:
(1) the functioning of the constitutional and electoral system;
(2) the independence of the judiciary and of other institutions and the rights of judges;
(3) corruption and conflicts of interest;
(4) privacy and data protection;
(5) freedom of expression;
(6) academic freedom;
(7) freedom of religion;
(8) freedom of association;
(9) the right to equal treatment;
(10) the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma and Jews, and protection against hateful statements against such minorities;
(11) the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;
(12) economic and social rights.
It contains the opinions of the EP Committees Budgetary control, Culture and Eudcation, Constitutional Affairs and Women Rights and Gender equality.