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27th Jan 2023

Hungary 'no longer a full democracy', MEPs set to declare

  • French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield: 'In five years, if we have to do another report on Hungary, it means we don't have a functioning EU' (Photo: European Parliament)
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The European Parliament is expected to say on Thursday (15 September) that Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy.

But legal scholars warned the decision could create serious issues for the credibility of the parliament itself.

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The draft resolution, set to be adopted on Thursday, says that the country has turned "into a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy" under prime minister Viktor Orbán.

While there have been worried reports and legal probes into Budapest for years, this is the first time an EU institution explicitly states that the EU member state is not a fully-blown democracy.

The adoption of the resolution is a follow-up to the 2018 parliament report on Hungary's democracy, which triggered the Article 7 sanctions procedure designed to discipline rule-breaking governments.

The new resolution says the "clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values has remained, which is the legal benchmark that could theoretically result in suspension of voting rights for Hungary.

The report also "condemns the deliberate and systemic efforts of the Hungarian government", led by Orbán, "undermine these founding values".

Several MEPs are also worried that Orbán's template might be contagious throughout Europe for other far-right governments, plus what it does to the functioning of the union.

"In five years, if we have to do another report on Hungary, it means we don't have a functioning EU," Green French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, the lawmaker in charge of the report, said.

However, MEP Balázs Hidvéghi from Orbán's Fidesz party, dismissed the report.

He accused part of the parliament of continuing to "link up with the Hungarian left", saying it was "shameful" that in a time of crisis they carry out a "slanderous campaign against Hungary".

"You are not interested in reaching an agreement with Hungary, but you try to destroy it," he told fellow MEPs in the debate on Wednesday.

EU blamed too

The parliament's resolution will have little effect on the government of Orbán.

It puts part of the blame on the EU itself for the lack of "decisive" action which has "contributed to the breakdown in democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights".

Since the parliament triggered the Article 7 procedure in 2018, not much has happened in the council of member states.

According to Article 7, four-fifths of its member states "may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values by a member states.

As a second step, the EU leaders by unanimity could decide on "the existence of a serious and persistent breach", which could entail the suspension of voting rights.

However, member states have not even set forward recommendations to Hungary on how to remedy the breach of values.

The EU Commission has launched several legal probes into different legislation by the Budapest government, and has not approved the Covid-19 recovery fund over rule-of-law concerns, but could do little to address the systematic problems.

It has triggered a new legal probe that links the disbursement of EU funds to the respect for the rule of law, where it concerns the distribution of EU subsidies.

Own goal?

John Morijn, a law and politics professor at the University of Groningen, told EUobserver the resolution might have bigger consequences for the parliament itself than for Hungary.

"It is a legal statement without being acknowledged as such by the European Parliament," he said.

The EU treaty says that the functioning of the union is founded on representative democracy, and that governments in the council should be democratically-accountable to their parliaments and citizens, Morijn recalled.

"If you say that one of 27 no longer fulfils the criteria of being a member of the EU, then the EU as a whole can no longer function as it should according to the EU treaty," he said.

"This is a serious statement," Morijn added.

"Decisions of the 27 are taken by 27 democratic countries," MEP Delbos-Corfield said in Wednesday's debate, adding: "If you have a fake democracy that would put us in difficult spot, because decision by the council effect the daily lives of all citizens."

In 2024 Hungary will take over the EU's rotating presidency, meaning it will be in charge of negotiations in the council.

"The EU meetings will be led by a country that does not fulfil the basic requirement as a representative democracy, which is highly problematic," Morijn said.

He added that if nothing happens with Hungary until the 2024 European parliamentary elections, it can also "pollute the legitimacy and the legality of the composition" of the new parliament, which is a co-legislator in the EU.

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