Tuesday

12th Dec 2017

Opinion

Hungary should be ringing alarm bells in Brussels

  • Viktor Orban. Labelling independent organisations as paid activists trying to topple the government is reminiscent of Russian government methods (Photo: EPP)

Hungary’s governing party is cranking up the heat on non-governmental organisations. With its tight grip on parliament and having undermined the courts and the media, the Fidesz party government doesn’t like being held to account by pesky independent groups.

Fidesz is a prime example of the danger of a type of populism that results in a government attacking basic European values like a free civil society.

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.

The 27 February hearing in the European Parliament’s committee for civil liberties, justice and home affairs (Libe) on the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary couldn’t be more timely.

On 10 February, in his state of the union address, prime minister Viktor Orban described civil society organisations as one of five major “attacks” on Hungary that the government needs to defend itself against in 2017.

He said that international organisations, headed by the billionaire philanthropist George Soros and groups backed by him, secretly wanted to influence domestic politics. On 21 February, Orban announced that there will be a national consultation on each of these five "threats".

Orban described Soros and his Open Society Foundations as “large bodied predators swimming in our waters,” who through the paid activists want to bring hundreds of thousands of “illegal migrants” into Europe and who relentlessly work to undermine the Hungarian government and parliament.

Russian methods

Labelling independent organisations as paid activists trying to topple the government is reminiscent of the Russian government’s style of branding independent groups as foreign agents.

In early January, Szilard Nemeth, the Fidesz party vice-president, publicly stated that Hungary will use “all tools at its disposal” to “sweep out” organisations funded by the Hungarian-born Soros as they “serve global capitalists and back political correctness over national governments.”

Nemeth said that with Donald Trump’s election as the US president, the timing is right. (Full disclosure: Human Rights Watch is among the many groups around the world that receive funding from Open Society Foundations).

The prime minister’s office named the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and Transparency International Hungary, all Soros funded, as key “troublemakers.”

Nemeth said that part of the “sweep out” plan will require the heads of these organisations to publicly declare their personal assets.

The government has not provided any details of how this will work or about sanctions for those who refuse to comply. It’s not the first time Orban has publicly aired his resentment toward core democratic principles and human rights and toward those who try to safeguard them.

Illiberal agenda

In July 2014, during his infamous speech in Romania, he declared that he wants to end liberal democracy in Hungary.

Since 2010, that’s certainly what his government has been busy doing.

Step by step, Orban and his government have taken control of key public institutions - the constitutional court, media authority, national judicial office, data commissioner, general prosecutor, curbed media freedom and gone after independent groups.

Weeks before Orban’s 2014 speech, the government targeted organisations that received grants from Norway, ordered a raid on their offices, and subjected them to financial inspections that found no financial irregularities.

A Budapest court in January 2015 ruled these raids unlawful.

Prior to the arbitrary financial inspections, the Hungarian prime minister’s office published a list of 13 organisations, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and Transparency International, labelling them “left-leaning” and “problematic.”

In fact, those three groups have played a critical role in exposing abuses by the government across a wide range of policies and its disregard for the rule of law.

Nor is it the first time the government has publicly attacked Soros and his Open Society Foundations. This is despite the fact that Orban and leading government officials and members of parliament have generously benefited from Soros’ support when Hungary was transitioning from communism to democracy in the late 80s.

Crossing the line

Some may argue that the government criticising civil society groups is just a part of the rough and tumble of politics.

But considering the direction of travel of the Hungarian government in recent years, its efforts to undermine checks and balances on the executive, and the importance of these groups to public life, there is no cause for complacency.

Unless the EU and other European institutions defend European values and take steps to support civil society groups that are under attack in Hungary, all of Europe will be the poorer.

Lydia Gall is the Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch

Croatia and Hungary are 'new face of corruption'

Transparency International said the crackdown on civil society in Croatia and Hungary "under the guise of a nationalist, ‘illiberal’ agenda" represented the new face of corruption in Europe.

EU hesitant on Hungary newspaper closure

Journalists from Hungary's largest newspaper were locked out of their office for a second day on Monday, but the EU Commission said it was powerless to help.

Soros-linked NGOs defy Orban purge

Hungarian NGOs funded by philanthropist George Soros have vowed to defy prime minister Viktor Orban’s plan to “sweep them out” of the country.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level