Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

US warns Hungary on Russia's 'nefarious influence'

  • Hilary Clinton, the then secretary of state, now a presidential candidate, in Budapest in 2011 (Photo: state.gov)

The European Commission says Hungary’s death penalty talk and its anti-immigrant rhetoric are un-European, but the US is more worried about Orban’s creation of an “illiberal state”.

Hoyt Yee, a US diplomat, listed concerns in a briefing at the foreign affairs committee in Congress on Tuesday (19 May).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“Perhaps most troubling, from the highest levels of power in Hungary, we have heard rhetoric about building an ‘illiberal state on national foundations’ and praising the superiority of autocracies … Such comments don’t do justice to the democratic values which Hungary is pledged to uphold”, he said.

Yee, who is deputy assistant secretary for European affairs, noted that “over the past five years”, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has piloted reforms “weakening checks and balances and undermining institutional independence”.

His list includes a 2011 amendment which harmed the Constitutional Court’s ability to supervise new legislation and which created “vacancies for government-backed [judicial] appointments”.

He said libel laws, in 2010, have resulted in a “media environment … dominated by outlets that are either state-run or sympathetic to the government and [that] self-censorship seems to have become more widespread”.

He said electoral reforms, ahead of 2014 elections, prompted “restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the state”.

He complained about a 2014 crackdown, including “police raids”, on foreign-backed civil society.

“The groups targeted were notable for their stance of questioning government practices and policies. The situation is at a standstill, with proceedings pending and the NGOs waiting for their names to be cleared, their confiscated equipment returned, and their tax numbers reinstituted”.

He also said Orban has "allowed the problem [of corruption allegations against his government] to fester, protected certain accused officials, and punished the accusers”.

He described Orban’s “ethnic nationalist rhetoric” as being inconsistent with “trans-Atlantic values”.

The diplomat noted that Hungary is “a stalwart ally, valued partner, and close friend of the United States”.

But he warned, alluding to Russia, that “internal weakness invites nefarious influences from the outside. Nato needs all of its members to be internally strong”.

The US, last year, imposed a visa ban on six Hungarian officials linked to the reforms.

A Washington source told EUobserver it might also suspend Hungary’s visa-waiver privileges if the situation deteriorates.

Verbal warnings

For its part, the EU commission has, in recent years, issued several warnings.

But its complaints never led to punitive action, with Orban, also following street protests in Budapest, introducing tweaks to the legislation to get Brussels off his back.

The EU commissioner in charge of the dossier, former Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, in a debate in Strasbourg also on Tuesday, said if Hungary reintroduces capital punishment, it could see its EU Council voting rights suspended.

“We will not hesitate one second on such a case”, he said.

He described the Orban government’s notion that immigrants are potential terrorists as “malicious and simply wrong”.

Orban, who attended the European Parliament debate, said the EU should change its rules, including on the death penalty, if that’s what voters want.

“These rules are created by men and can therefore be changed by men. This is freedom, this is democracy”, he said.

Hungarian PM defends death penalty debate

Orban faced down stinging criticism in the EU assembly on Tuesday, saying it's "democracy" to discuss the death penalty, while calling EU migrant proposals "insane".

Orban gives Putin warm welcome

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban on Tuesday became the first EU leader to receive Russian president Vladimir Putin for a bilateral visit since last June.

EU wants continental free-trade deal with Africa

Earlier this week, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union announced a new relationship with Africa. On Friday, his subordinates outlined the vision, promising jobs and growth by leveraging public funds for investments.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says
  2. Poland to face EU top court on rule of law
  3. Austria's EU presidency: a bridge over troubled water?
  4. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  5. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  6. New book: Why war is coming
  7. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  8. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us