Saturday

21st Oct 2017

EU commissioner tells Hungarians to resist Orban

  • Jourova: "We have also concerns regarding the judiciary in Hungary, its independence." (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

The Hungarian government's efforts to shut down a university in Budapest drew a sharp rebuke from the EU's commissioner for justice.

European justice commissioner Vera Jourova on Monday (10 April) called on civil society to stand up to prime minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government and his broader efforts to create an illiberal democracy.

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"I think it is good that people are visible and vocal about what is happening at the Central European University," she told reporters in Brussels.

"The people there are courageous, open, and visible and this is what the commission will also encourage."

But she noted that the commission imposing "administrative steps or infringements or other measures" against the government is unlikely to result in any real change.

"I can tell you my fear in Hungary is that there are efforts to decrease the power and the influence of the civil society as such and decrease the political pluralism, which is my opinion," she said.

Jourova's comments come ahead of a meeting of EU commissioners later this week, which will formulate an official position of the events unfolding in Budapest.

A reported 70,000 people had gathered in the capital city over the weekend to protest a new Hungarian law that would see the closure of a university funded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

The massive turnout has been billed as one of the largest since Orban took power. Among them were thousands of students who chanted anti-Orban slogans.

Hungarian authorities insist the law is part of a larger and better regulation drive, but the move is widely seen as a government-led clamp down on civil society and opposition in general.

The bill had been passed in parliament by Orban's right-wing Fidesz party and seeks to impose restrictions that would force the university to shut down.

The amendment to Hungary's National Higher Education Act 2011 would require the Central European University to set up a campus in the United States, given that it is accredited in both countries.

Jourova also reserved comments for Poland due to its far-reaching reforms which run the risk of undermining the rule of law.

Both Hungary and Poland are seen as problematic for the EU, at a time when the Union aims to consolidate its stated values.

But issues over migration, a weakening of the judiciary, and other structural and institutional reforms, have cast a long shadow over the governments in Budapest and Warsaw.

"We see very worrying trends in these countries," Jourova said.

An EU-wide assessment of national justice systems presented by the EU commission, also on Monday, ranked the perceived independence of courts and judges in Poland and Hungary as relatively low when compared to other EU states.

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The European Commission and Parliament are to debate Hungary's slide into illiberal democracy. But the bloc continues to think that Hungarian leader Viktor Orban is not a systemic threat.

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