The Hungarian Crisis: Is the EU Failing against Authoritarianism?
Soso Dzamukashvili, Contributor policy analyst, Central and East European Studies Specialist, M.A. from the University of Glasgow (UK)
Eter Glurjidze, Contributor policy analyst, postgraduate student at the Estonian School of Diplomacy and alumnus of the North China University of Technology
In November 2020, Hungary, along with Poland, tried to block the EU budget over a clause that ties the funding with adherence to the rule of law by member states. The package included €750 billion aimed at assisting the member states to recover from the economic damage caused by COVID-19. Although Brussels was able to eventually approve the budget, this case has demonstrated that there are serious challenges to democracy within the organisation.
The election of Viktor Orbán as Prime Minister of Hungary in 2010 and the changing of the country’s constitution started a new period of suffocation of democratic institutions and the rule of law. Thus, this central European country, which once strived towards liberal democracy, found itself slowly falling prey to the rise of authoritarianism.
In 2019, Freedom House downgraded its freedom index in Hungary to ‘partly free’ due to ‘sustained attacks on the country’s democratic institutions’ and appear side-by-side with Serbia and Montenegro, which are not members of the EU. This ‘new Hungary’ represents a puzzle for the organisation, and raises the question as to whether the EU can hold together as ‘a community of values’. This has been a serious challenge to the union, which has not yet managed to prevent Hungary’s administration from violating democratic institutions.
Figure 1. Democracy backsliding in Hungary since 2010 (Source: Freedom House)
The Pandemic as an Advantageous Factor
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unusual times, which have called for extraordinary measures on a global scale. Although these moves may have been once deemed state power expansion, these stringent measures have become of dire necessity now. Yet, there is a clear line between imposing emergency measures and outright authoritarianism. In the case of Hungary, this line has undoubtedly been crossed, with Prime Minister Orbán having found the ideal situation to obtain more power. The Hungarian government successfully adopted a decree for Mr Orbán, which he has since used to effectively silence critical voices and to persecute free media. Even though it has been declared that these measures will only be in play until the pandemic ends, the real duration seems to be indefinite.
The Hungarian predicament has come to the EU’s doorstep at the most undesired time. The pandemic has provided a good cover for more power-grabbing since COVID-19 called for the consolidation of executive power. Hence, apart from having to deal with the ongoing pandemic crisis, the EU has to contend with one of its members, which has taken advantage of the challenging situation. However, the union has not issued any stark responses, realising, perhaps, that the pandemic might not be the right moment to pick a fight with one of its members. President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has been quite soft towards the situation in Hungary and has abstained from mentioning the country explicitly in her statements. The EU’s April 2020 statement on pandemic measures has been a warning that such strict measures undermine democracy. However, the report was signed solely by 13 member states and did not mention Hungary by name at all. This led many to start questioning the EU’s ability to prevent its member states from diminishing its underpinning values.
The EU’s Ineffective ‘Gentle Diplomacy’?
The parliamentary opposition of the Hungarian incumbent party has shown itself unable to counter Victor Orbán’s quest against the rule of law. The EU thus remains the only mechanism capable of curbing his non-democratic quest. Nevertheless, its legal proceedings have proved unsuccessful at preventing the Hungarian government from undermining democratic values. Although there has been a great deal of criticism, the EU has often taken a peaceful stance towards Hungary, trying to entice it to reform voluntarily. It has been argued that the EU should consider expelling Hungary from the organisation via Article 50, the only tool available to help a country leave the EU. However, it can be triggered only with the state’s will to leave, as it has been in the case of Brexit.
On the other hand, the EU cannot expel a member state unilaterally. Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, a mechanism enabling the EU to suspend certain rights to member states, can be applied to restrict voting power in the European Council. Nonetheless, activating the article requires the EU member states to unanimously determine whether the EU’s democratic values are in fact being dismantled by a member state. The possibility that Hungary and Poland will back each other is high. Re-founding the union without Hungary for the sake of protecting democratic accountability would be too extreme. It may encourage other countries to keep following a non-democratic path, especially during the period of China’s emergence, which many believe aims to promote autocracy in the region.
Another solution, which concerns finances, also presents a challenge. If the EU cuts funding to Hungary, other member states will assume that it sets a precedent for the same to happen to them at some point in the future. Therefore, they will likely be reluctant to ‘punish’ any particular member state.
Furthermore, Hungarian Civic Alliance Fidesz is a member of the largest European People’s Party (EPP), which includes influential politicians such as Angela Merkel and both the current and former presidents of the European Commission. It is considered that isolating Fidesz politically might damage the group’s overall influence. There is also a popular view that Orbán’s political party delivers a great number of votes to the EPP in the European Parliament elections.
A Loss of Trust in Liberal Democracy?
Another challenge for the EU regarding Hungary is connected to the perception of liberal democracy. As Donald Tusk once claimed, ‘the biggest fear today is that people have started to associate liberalism with negative concepts such as vulnerability, disorder, chaos and weakness.’ In 2018, Orbán started to widely condemn liberal democracy. At the same time, Hungary repositioned itself ‘towards the East’. Making a contrast between the East and West, Orbán has been observing how non-Western and non-democratic systems are able to make their nations successful. In addition, while criticising the EU, Orbán has advocated the principle of non-interference, believing that each nation has its own character, embodied in specific and unique political systems.
Voices often blame the EU for inaction, albeit it is obvious that liberal democracy has long begun to suffer on a global scale. Loss of trust in democracy has become the trend not only in Hungary but around the globe. This process is accompanied by the rise of authoritarianism, which very much appeals to the Hungarian government. Despite Budapest’s objections, the EU has managed to overcome the issue of the EU budget this time; yet, it has revealed its inability to stop Hungary’s rollback to autocracy in the long run. Thus, it might need to reform itself to obtain stronger leverage over its non-democratic member states and be more resilient to such issues in future.
- Hungary’s illiberal influence on Georgia’s European integration: a worrying pattern
- The 11th package of EU sanctions and Georgia
- Power of the people in Georgia: The EU must remain vigilant
- A Looming Winter Energy Crisis in Europe: Can Azerbaijan Become the Continent’s Next Large Energy Supplier?
- The Russian Exclave of Kaliningrad and the Lithuanian "Sting"
- Czech Presidency of the EU: Time for Re-orienting EU Foreign Policy?
- What could be the cost of “Putin’s face-saving” for European relations
- In line for the candidate status, Georgia will get a European perspective. What are we worried about?
- The break-up of the Hungarian-Polish coalition - an opportunity for the EU
- Failed Tskhinvali Referendum
- The War and Georgia
- "Autocratic Peace"
- “Rural Orbanism”- Polarization as a determinant for Hungary's political future
- Illegal Presidential Elections in the Tskhinvali Region: Why Bibilov Lost and What to Anticipate in Future
- How to Respond to Russian Ultra-Orthodox-Historic-Hegemonism?
- The War in Ukraine and the UK’s New Role in Eastern Europe
- What Will the Abolition of the OSCE Minsk Group Bring to the South Caucasus?
- The Presidential Election in France and Europe’s Political Future
- Will Pashinyan Be Able to Make a Drastic Turnaround in Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations?
- Why Has the Abkhaz Side Become More Active on Social Networks?
- Why a Neutral Ukraine Is Not on Putin’s Mind (Ukraine’s Neutral Status Is Getting Closer, but What Does It Mean to Putin?)
- Europe's energy future - challenges and opportunities
- Uncontrolled Mass Immigration and the Position of the Georgian Government
- Changes in Putin's propaganda narratives since the Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Ukraine will soon embark on a path of practical integration into the European Union. What about Georgia?
- Positions and Actions of Turkey in the Russo-Ukrainian War
- NATO’s possible expansion in Northern Europe and its significance for Georgia and Ukraine
- Political Winter Olympics in Beijing
- What Is behind Putin’s Sudden Gambit in Ukraine?
- Abkhazia in 2021: Energy Crisis, New “Minister” and Political Controversy
- L'Europe pourra-t-elle éviter le “déjà vu” ? (France, President of the Council of the European Union, and the Tensions in Eastern Europe)
- US-Russia Relations and the Issue of Ukraine
- The New Targets of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Regime
- What are the Prospects of the Eastern Partnership Summit Set on 15 December?
- The Upcoming EaP Summit - Why the Trio Initiative Should Finally Find Its Way
- What Will the Post-Merkel Era Mean for the EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood Policy?
- What Lies Behind the Growing Cooperation of the Georgian and Hungarian Governments
- “Doberman” as a Minister: Inal Ardzinba’s Prospects and Challenges
- The Belarus Crisis: How to Enhance Our Resilience Against the Russian Strategy for Its Near-Neighborhood
- Moldova’s Gas Crisis Has Been Russia’s Yet Another Political Blackmailing
- EU-Poland’s worsened relations and what it means for the EaP
- Lessons From Germany on Political Culture: What Georgia Can Learn From the German Parliamentary Elections
- Belarus One Year On: An Insecure Regime Under Russian “Protection”
- Why Did Iran-Azerbaijan Relations Become Strained?
- Russia’s Parliamentary Elections - What Can Be Said About the Regime’s Stability
- Six Key Takeaways from State of the Union Address - Too Little on EU Enlargement?
- An Emerging Foreign Policy Trend in Central and Eastern Europe: A Turn from China to Taiwan?
- Vaccination: “To Be, or not to Be”…
- Sharia Patrols in Kabardino-Balkaria: A Growing Trend or a Local Conflict?
- Belarus’ exit from the Eastern Partnership and what to expect next
- Pacta Sunt Servanda: Agreements must be kept
- The West vs Russia: The Reset once again?!
- Associated Trio, What is Next?
- Formation of a New “Political Elite” in Abkhazia - Who Will Replace the Old “Elite?”
- The symbolism of the EU flag and why a true Christian would not tear it down and burn it
- Securitization of the Arctic: A Looming Threat of Melting Ice
- The Issue of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region in the Context of NATO and European Union Membership
- (Re)Mapping the EU’s Relations with Russia: Time for Change?
- The Political Crisis in Moldova: A Deadlock without the Way Out?
- ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’: A New Opportunity for Global Authoritarian Influence?
- Deal with the ‘Dragon’: What Can Be the Repercussions of the China-EU Investment Agreement?
- Georgia’s Application for European Union Membership
- Who did the judge sentence: Navalny, Putin or Russia?
- Biden’s Conundrum
- 2020 Developments in Abkhazia: “Elections,” the Pandemic and Deeper Integration with Russia
- Could Belarus Become a Prelude to the Great Polish-Swedish War 400 Years Ago?
- COVID 19 Pandemic Economic Crisis and Reducing the Instability of Georgia’s National Currency
- Some Thoughts on the Use of the Term „Post-Soviet Space“
- Georgia’s European Way During the Period of Pandemic Deglobalization
- Turkey's Caucasus Policy Against the Backdrop of the Latest Armenia-Azerbaijan Tensions
- Khabarovsk Krai Protests as an Indicator of the Russian Federation’s Stability
- Pensions, Economic Growth, Agflation and Inflation
- Trio Pandemic Propaganda: How China, Russia and Iran Are Targeting the West
- Complications Caused by the Coronavirus in Turkey and Their Influence on Georgia
- From Russia with… a Canny Plan
- Political Crisis in Occupied Abkhazia
- What is the Significance of Killing General Qasem Soleimani?
- What Will the New Dialogue Format with Russia Bring for Georgia?
- On the “Russian Culture Center” in Georgia
- Whither Economic Policy?
- Main Messages of Russian Propaganda
- Massive Cyberattacks On Georgia Calls For Defense And Resilience
- What do we know about the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and Georgia?
- New Focuses of the Anti-Occupation Policy
- Georgia's Problems are not Addressed at G7 Meetings: Who is to Blame?
- The Outcome of the European Parliament Elections - What Does it Mean for Georgia?
- Ten Years Since the Establishment of the Eastern Partnership
- Deterring Russia
- A New Chance for Circular Labor Migration between Georgia and the EU
- EU Soft Power and the Armenian [R]evolution
- Georgia and the American Strategy
- Who Gets Russian Help?
- Is Georgia’s Export Growth Sustainable?
- Putin’s Visit to the Occupied Abkhazia: Was our Reaction Actually Adequate?
- Pence’s Visit to Georgia: Several Lessons and What We Should be Expecting
- Is it Acceptable for Georgia to Declare Neutrality?
- Georgia’s European Perspective in the Context of EU’s Future Evolution
- Brexit Negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom have been re-launched: What will be their Influence on Georgia?
- How to Stop the “Creeping Occupation”
- Kremlin’s Policy in the Occupied Regions of Georgia Moves to a New Stage
- Syrian Civil War in the Context of Regional Security
- The Winnable Second Round of Russia’s Neighbors’ Struggle against Its Imperialism
- Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy in the Context of Regional Security
- Post-Soviet States – Struggle for the Legitimation of Power
- New Russian Weaponry in the Caucasus and Its Impact on Georgia’s NATO Aspiration