European Union test case: stop Hungary from backsliding on democracy
It's hard to love the EU – bureaucratic, legalistic, mired in gridlock. The euro crisis hasn't earned it much praise lately, either. But the EU still has vital clout. It can help force member states like Hungary to stick to democracy, rather than backslide into dictatorship.
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Last week, the executive arm of the EU, the European Commission, launched legal proceedings against Hungary – demanding changes to recent Hungarian legislation affecting the independence of Hungary’s central bank, data protection authority, and judiciary. Commission President José Manuel Barroso went further, raising concerns about the erosion of democracy in Hungary.Skip to next paragraph
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With Hungary’s economy in turmoil, the Orbán government is desperate to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund and EU. The IMF has made it clear that no loans will be forthcoming until Hungary settles its disputes with the EU.
Orbán appeared before the European Parliament last Wednesday, giving a speech defending his government’s record. Most members of the European Parliament were unimpressed, and a number are calling for the launch of a legal procedure to investigate whether Hungary is in breach of the EU’s fundamental values – a procedure that could see Hungary stripped of its voting rights in the EU.
Faced with mounting pressure from the EU and the need to secure IMF funding, Orbán has already signaled a willingness to back down. He met yesterday in Brussels with Commission President Barroso and promised to modify the legislation concerning the central bank, the judiciary, and data protection in line with EU demands.
The future of democracy in Hungary is by no means secure. The EU will need to apply much more pressure to assure that the Orbán government does not consolidate one-party rule in the coming months. But the prospects for democracy in Hungary are much better in the EU than outside it. Were it not an EU member, Hungary might easily slide into authoritarianism on the model of the Ukraine or Russia.
R. Daniel Kelemen, director of the Center for European Studies at Rutgers University, is author of “Eurolegalism: The Transformation of Law and Regulation in the European Union.”