Hungary: Can the EU punish authoritarianism?
Hungary has been betrayed by its European Union partners, said Blikk (Hungary). Last week, slightly more than two-thirds of the European Parliament voted in favor of opening a punishment procedure against our country. It was the first time the parliament had ever invoked Article 7 of its charter, which can result in a member nation’s voting rights being suspended if it is found to have breached the core EU values of “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.” The motion to censure Hungary, drafted by Dutch parliamentarian Judith Sargentini, accused Hungary of a litany of sins, including abusing migrants, squashing the free press, and ramming through constitutional changes without due process. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was incensed, saying that the vote was intended to punish his country for its firm stance against accepting immigrants. They want to take away our right to police our border, he said, and instead send “mercenaries from Brussels who will allow in migrants.”
He needn’t get too upset, said HungaryToday.hu, because any punishments are a long way off. The vote “merely opened the door to an investigation” by the EU’s General Affairs Council—made up of member nations’ ministers for Europe—into Hungary’s suspected infringements. Once it files a report, a four-fifths majority of that council must also approve it. Then the EU Council—made up of leaders of member states—must approve it unanimously, before it goes back to the European Parliament, which must pass it by another two-thirds majority. Only after that lengthy bureaucratic process will Hungary be hit with sanctions or stripped of voting rights.
That will not happen, said Alain Berenboom in Le Soir (Belgium). The EU’s founders never imagined that more than one member would abandon its commitment to the rule of law, but here we are: Poland, which is in a similar authoritarian slide and faces a different type of EU censure, has already said it will veto any proposed punishment of Hungary. Orban can simply “shrug his shoulders and call his people to close ranks against the ugly, unelected technocrats in Brussels.” Perhaps we shouldn’t have let former communist countries into the union so quickly, before they had fully transformed into liberal democracies. But what can we do now? “Put the Hungarians and Poles back behind the Berlin Wall?”
Hungary may never be formally punished, said Laszlo Seres in HVG (Hungary), but this EU censure is still a blow. The message has gone out to the Hungarian people: “Our political system is no longer a European one.” And it wasn’t simply our rejection of migrants and refugees that put us outside European norms. This is a result of eight years of Orban’s “relentless assault on the rule of law, justice, the media, the free market, and civil rights.” Orban boasts that he has built an “illiberal state”—and we’re stuck with it. ■