Tuesday

16th Jan 2018

Merkel clashes with Orban on meaning of 'democracy'

  • Merkel: 'I can’t understand what is meant by illiberal when it comes to democracy' (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

German chancellor Angela Merkel criticised Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban over his government's treatment of the opposition, civil society, and media and openly clashed with him over the definition of democracy during a visit to Budapest on Monday (2 February).

In a sometimes tense joint press conference, Merkel expressed doubt over Orban’s interpretation of democracy.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“Honestly, I can’t understand what is meant by illiberal when it comes to democracy,” she said.

The chancellor was referring to a speech by Orban last year in which he said he was building an “illiberal” state in Hungary, and cited Russian and Turkey as examples.

But Orban replied that "not all democracies have to be liberal" adding: “Those who say that democracy is necessarily liberal are trying to put one school of thought above others and we cannot grant that."

Merkel also criticised the Hungarian premier’s treatment of diverging opinions, saying that societies thrive through dialogue.

“It is very important in a democracy, including when one has a broad majority, to recognise the role of the opposition, civil society and media,” the German leader said.

Orban's right-wing Fidesz party has ruled with a two-thirds majority in parliament for five years, and has been accused of abusing its super-majority.

Speaking later at the German-language Andrassy University in front of around 100 students, Merkel said: "In a democracy the opposition is not an enemy, the majority must protect the minority.”

She also called for media pluralism and a free civil society, amid criticism within and outside Hungary, most notably Washington, that Orban is undermining democracy.

Ties between Hungary and Germany - its biggest investor and largest trading partner - have cooled over the last years and it is Merkel’s first visit since Orban came to power in 2010.

The trip was seen as an effort to reinforce relations amid attempts by the Hungarian PM to forge close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to visit Budapest on 17 February.

Orban was willing to clash with Brussels over the now dropped Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline. He also signed a €10 billion loan deal last year with Moscow to build a new nuclear plant.

Turning to Putin

Merkel put pressure on Orban over Russia, in an attempt to ensure sure Hungary sticks to the common European line on sanctions against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

She reminded Hungary that it is not the only EU member state highly dependent on Russian gas.

Orban, while backing the sanctions, has voiced criticism over the negative economic effect of the restrictive measures on the EU's own member states, saying last year Europe “has shot itself into the foot”.

Merkel also made clear that Germany will not provide arms to Ukraine in its conflict with Russian-backed rebels.

“Germany will not support Ukraine with guns and weapons. It is my firm belief that this conflict cannot be solved militarily,” she said.

MEPs to discuss civil liberties in Hungary

The EP's civil liberties committee is to discuss Hungarian PM Orban's recent flirtation with reintroducing the death penalty, and a controversial Hungarian survey on immigration.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

Romania searching for EU respectability

Ten years after its accession and a year before holding the EU presidency, the fastest-growing EU economy wants to "engage" more with its partners. But concerns over the rule of law continue to give the country a bad image.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

Magazine

Schulz: 'hero to zero' in 2017 - but back in 2018?

For Martin Schulz, 2017 was the year he was supposed to go from European Parliament president to German chancellor. He failed badly yet now he looks set to return to centre-stage in 2018, possibly as Germany's foreign minister.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  3. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  4. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  5. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  6. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  7. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  8. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  10. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  11. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  12. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology

Latest News

  1. Post-Brexit trade roll-over not automatic, EU paper says
  2. Oettinger pushes plastic tax but colleagues express doubts
  3. MEPs target exports of cyber surveillance tech
  4. Kosovo killing halts EU talks in Brussels
  5. ECB withheld information on 'flawed' bank supervision
  6. Fewer MEPs than visitors turn up for Estonian PM
  7. EU names China and Russia as top hackers
  8. Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises