Editorial: It's time the EU got tough on Hungary

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban appears to think he can call Europe’s bluff

Share

Hungary’s power-hungry Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, appears to think he can call Europe’s bluff. Brussels must make it clear that he cannot. And it must do so swiftly.

The Hungarian parliament will vote today on constitutional amendments curbing press freedom and threatening the independence of both the judiciary and the Church. If passed, coverage of election campaigns will be restricted to state media only, and all decisions made by the country’s highest court before 2012 will be invalid. Extra rules on everything from higher education to homelessness to family law are also included.

The implications for Hungary’s democratic checks and balances are grave. Nor is this Mr Orban’s first attempt at an alarming consolidation of government power. He has already tried to push through such changes once, but was forced by international pressure to back down. Now, however, the proposals have resurfaced as a series of amendments put forward by Mr Orban’s Fidesz party, which dominates parliament.

There is no shortage of opposition second time around, either. Several thousand people marched through Budapest on Saturday. Both the Council of Europe and the US have expressed disquiet. And José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, last week explicitly warned that the changes put the rule of law of risk, and requested such concerns be addressed. Mr Orban’s reply was non-committal, however, affirming a commitment to EU law but giving no details.

Europe has more than the power of persuasion to draw on, though. There is the possibility of imposing financial penalties on Hungary, restricting the several billion euros-worth of annual structural funds. There is also the nuclear option of withdrawing the country’s EU voting rights.

Both are blunt instruments. Neither is a course to be taken lightly. But Mr Orban’s agenda – cloaked in private bills from Fidesz MPs, or not – is no trifling matter. It runs counter to the most fundamental of Europe’s democratic values. It is up to Brussels to defend the integrity of those values and to show Budapest that membership of the EU comes with responsibilities that cannot simply be shrugged off.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.