Hungary No Longer a ‘Full Democracy?’

September 23, 2022 Updated: September 23, 2022

Commentary

The European Parliament has voted to declare Hungary no longer a true democracy.

The resolution, passed on Sept. 15, describes the central European country as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” and that while elections do occur, respect for democratic norms and stands is “absent.”

The resolution received 433 votes in favour and 123 votes against declaring Hungary in “serious breach” of the European Union’s democratic norms.

The Parliament called on the European Council—consisting of Heads of States and governments—to consider imposing sanctions.

The resolution is based on Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, which allows the European Council to determine if there is a “clear risk of a serious breach … of the values referred to in Article 2.” These values include respect for “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

However, the meaning of the concept of “democracy” is not spelled out in Article 2, so it means whatever the Parliament wants it to mean.

The Parliament also indicated in its resolution that any delay in acting to “protect” EU values would itself be a violation of the rule of law. Additionally, the European Commission—the executive arm of the EU—has expressed concerns at Hungary’s situation.

The European Parliament accused Hungary of several alleged violations of EU values including a lack of judicial independence, suspicion of corruption, violation of LGBT rights, and the muzzling of academic and religious freedoms.

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Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban leaves after an emergency European Union (EU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium, on Feb. 25, 2022. (John Thys/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Your Democratic Values or Mine?

Of course, the accusation that Hungary violated EU “democratic” values depends on the definition of “democracy.” If the concept is not clearly defined, it becomes a meaningless concept with the European Parliament having complete discretion over how to apply it.

Legal theorist, Hans Kelsen, in his “General Theory of Law and State” argued that democracy connotes “the principle of self-determination” and that conformity “with the will of the majority is the aim of democratic organization.”

If this description of “democracy” were to be embraced, one can easily conclude that Hungary is democratic because its prime minister, Viktor Orban, won a fourth consecutive election in April this year.

This amazing electoral success indicates that the electorate strongly supports the direction Orban’s ruling Fidesz party is paving for the country—provided there has been no electoral fraud.

The EU’s actions come after a contentious speech delivered by Orban in Romania in July.

He reportedly said that Western Europe deploys an “ideological ruse” that claims “Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race.” He was roundly criticised for his comments, which some commentators have claimed could come straight from the script of Goebbels.

But it could also be argued that the EU has a problem with Orban’s sympathies for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Orban has resisted attempts to support EU sanctions on the purchase of Russian gas imports, saying it would damage the Hungarian economy. He has also claimed that punitive sanctions against Russia have not worked, that Ukraine cannot win the war, and that the armed conflict can only be resolved through direct peace talks between the United States and Russia.

However, one true, lingering concern about Hungary is the legitimate concerns over a lack of judicial independence.

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Demonstrators hold a flag in the colors of Hungary reading “Hungary protects Europe” as they arrive to listen to a speech by their prime minister in Budapest, Hungary, on March 15, 2018. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, judges are appointed by the president of the National Office for the Judiciary, a post created by Orban’s government.

The EU Court of Justice has also ruled that a Hungarian law adopted in 2018, which threatened jail for people who assisted asylum seekers, is incompatible with EU law.

There is a gnawing suspicion that judicial independence—a fundamental principle of democracies—is being eroded or at risk in Hungary.

Ultimately, the European Parliament’s vote is not binding because unanimity among the 27 member states of the EU, including Hungary, is required to impose sanctions.

Under Article 7, Hungary could theoretically be threatened with losing its right to vote in the European Council. But because unanimity is required, the prospect of this happening is just as unlikely to happen (barring some fantastical interpretation of current laws).

This is the most recent episode of the tense relationship between Hungary and other EU members and continues the bloc’s ongoing struggles with unity—a problem the EU will need to deal with to maintain the integrity of the union.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (2020) and “The Coincidence” (2021).