The European Parliament has just wrapped up a debate on the political situation in Hungary following the European Commission’s commencement of infringement proceedings a few days ago against Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz government.
The Commission is taking action against three specific violations by Viktor Orban’s administration:
- Risking the independence of the Hungarian Central Bank
- Lowering the age at which judges and prosecutors retire
- Undermining the independence of the data protection ombudsman in Hungary
This action by the European Commission could ultimately lead to loss of Hungary’s voting rights in the EU under Article 7 of EU treaty law. According to the Daily Telegraph, Lars Christensen from Danske Bank has said: “The EU is not bluffing. It will let Hungary go over the edge to make the point the EU countries must play by the rules.”
This is not, however, quite how Mr Orban sees it. Having been invited to speak in the European Parliament debate today – an unusual step which I think demonstrates a high level of fairness on the part of the Parliament – Orban was typically gung ho. An ardent anti-communist, he made sure we all knew that Hungary was the last iron-curtain country to get rid of its Stalinist constitution. The point being that it was Orban who did the deed.
Orban further maintained that the repressive measures brought in by his government were needed to sort out the economic mess he inherited, while claiming the country had also been on the verge of social collapse.
Following Orban, the European Parliament split on Party lines. The Socialist and Democrat, Liberal and Green Groups were passionately against Orban, seeing his government as anti-democratic, restricting fundamental freedoms. It was even suggested that the Parliament send a delegation to Hungary to find out why the homeless, the poor and vulnerable, and those in need of social care, not to mention intellectuals and free thinkers, were so afraid of Orban and his government.
The other side of the House, the European People’s Party (EPP), the European Conservatives and Reformists (the Tories’ group) and the ultra-right Europe for Freedom and Democracy took a diametrically opposite view. The EPP Leader Joseph Daul could hardly have more pro-Orban.
Such a very real political division is rare in the European Parliament. The Parties generally seek consensus, while EU matters quite often raise little controversy. A strong political debate therefore came as a breath of fresh air, one which should happen more often. A Parliament is a political institution and must have the oxygen of political disagreement and debate to be credible and effective.