Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, gave a controversial speech regarding his distaste for Hungary becoming “more mixed-race”.
This statement aligns with Orban’s morally suspect relationship with civil liberties and following the speech, Orban’s advisor on social inclusion labelled his remarks as “a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels”.
This comes as yet another reminder to the European Union that Hungary’s membership should not be a smoke screen for the human rights violations they have committed and the EU values and treaties they have broken.
The twelve years since Orban’s ascension to power have seen a multitude of human rights violations that have resulted in Hungary becoming the first EU member state to be categorised as “partly free” by Freedom House. Specifically, Hungary has clamped down on the circulation of independent and critical media with most outlets being directly or indirectly regulated by the government.
2021 saw Hungary’s most influential independent radio, KlubRadio, taken off the air for promoting oppositional content. Other domestic policies restrict political opposition, NGOs, religious groups, and ethnic and sexual minorities, all of which directly violate the Treaty on European Union.
This anti-liberty agenda has also led to Hungary’s opposition to European legislation where in 2020 Hungary blocked the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.
This systematic violation of the rule of law pushed the EU to enact a regulation that allowed them to restrict member state funding depending on how well the rule of law is upheld. The European Court of Justice rejected Hungary’s appeal against this regulation granting the EU the fiscal powers it needed to enforce foundational EU values.
Following Orban’s fourth election victory in April of this year, the EU deployed this fiscal mechanism by withholding €15 billion from Hungary’s Covid recovery funds amid concerns of corruption. This has set a much needed precedent for EU norms.
Previous mechanisms that have attempted to combat democratic backsliding in Hungary have failed miserably. The EU has taken Hungary to the European Court of Justice multiple times over the past several years for rolling back democratic values, and they attempted to restrict Hungary’s voting rights in the European Parliament but to no avail.
While these preexisting measures were insufficient, the new fiscal mechanism can force Hungary’s hand. This is partially reflected by the minor concessions made by Orban after the funds were withheld; however, the EU can and should go further.
In fact, during a new legal analysis commissioned by MEP Daniel Freund, rule of law experts found that The Commission could freeze 100 per cent of all payments to Hungary in order to enact real change.
These necessary measures are not being implemented. Instead, the EU is choosing to save face and protect their political reputation by not utilising the full extent of their power. In truth, Hungary’s assault on civil liberties draws a likely comparison to Russia’s human rights issues that have been dominating headlines.
Putin’s media fortress mirrors Orban’s iron-fisted grip on Hungarian broadcasting and Russia’s silencing of long-term opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, parallels Hungary’s restrictions on free speech. The difference is that Russia’s offences have become mainstream rhetoric in the EU whereas Hungary’s are swept under the rug.
The hypocrisy is clear: the EU holds other nations to standards that they do not uphold themselves.
The minimum response needed is the restriction of all revenue streams from the European common budget. In actuality, the EU needs to revisit their founding principles and reassess the continued membership of an oppressive state. Unconditional membership of an autocratic regime undermines the integrity of the Union and Hungary’s transgressions cannot be ignored.