18 Dec, 2018

Hungary: where silence becomes cynicism

Ethan Arsht

The European Christian Democrats (EPP) must tackle their Orbàn-problem, writes MEP Sophie in 't Veld:

Building a democracy is a long-term endeavour. Destroying one goes much faster. While the European Parliament has condemned the continued attacks on the democratic rule of law in Hungary, the Orbán government is giving it full throttle.

No week passes by without reading worrying new developments about the state of democracy in Hungary. The Central European University, which was fighting for academic freedom has been deemed to be too dangerous for the state and it has been expelled from the country for good.

In the meantime, it turns out that Orbán has built up an enormous media conglomerate, which means that more than 400 websites, television channels and newspapers will remain uncritical towards the government's discourse that is becoming increasingly aggressive, anti-Semitic, anti-European and undemocratic. Last week, the Fidesz supermajority forced through parliament a new law on overtime working hours - immediately dubbed the ‘slave law’ - undermining social rights like never before.

On top of all that came the most severe blow to the rule of law in Hungary: from now on the Supreme Court will not deal with matters that have to do with the state but a new administrative court, entirely dependent on the Minister of Justice, will do so instead. Any Hungarian citizen who intends to litigate with the government – on cases ranging from maladministration or corruption to electoral fraud or problems with police action - can henceforth only turn to the very same courts controlled by the government. With this Fidesz is now effectively exercising political and legal superpowers.

White flag or European flag?

The Hungarians are not giving up. The opposition set in motion parliamentary obstruction. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest. The police responded with violence, also against some opposition MPs. At a certain point, from the besieged headquarters of government party Fidesz, the European flag was waved to make it clear where the demonstrators are still hoping help from.

Their desperate cry has so far been answered with nothing else but silence and cynicism. The expulsion of the Central European University only merited a tweet from European People's Party (EPP) leader Manfred Weber, who said he is 'very disappointed' by his party friend Orbán. The rest of the EPP couldn't even care to tweet. A European Council of Ministers last week took note of what is going on in Hungary - the 'discussion' lasted a full twenty minutes - and went on to the next item on the agenda.

This is more than hypocrisy. This is unacceptable cynicism. Disorder and oppression are the order of the day in Hungary. It does not only make it impossible for us to speak credibly about European values ​​such as democracy, press freedom and the rule of law, but increasingly it is also becoming impossible to monitor the spending of European funds or to make agreements about tackling corruption. This is a problem for the the European Union as a whole, and for everything that the EU stands for.

European politics can no longer respond with the slowest possible procedural battle, keeping as silent as possible. In particular, the silence from the EPP legitimises Orbán's actions. He draws additional credibility from his position within the party, being on an equal footing with the likes of Angela Merkel, and as a supporter of Manfred Weber's Weber's bid for the European Commission presidency.

Weber was among the first to warmly congratulate Orbán on his latest two-thirds election victory in April. Weber, the man who, as potentially the next President of the European Commission, will have to oversee matters such as the spending of European funds, the our common migration policy, and the application of the rule of law throughout Europe. Make no mistake: Orbán is not a problem child in the Christian Democratic family, but a pater familias who demands to be respected and obeyed.

This should stop now.

All across the the political spectrum, from the green left all the way to the conservative right, we must give a united sign: there is no room for this in European politics. The infamous EPP red lines have been exceeded several times. Time and again he has been welcomed back into the fold. Forgiveness may well be a Christian virtue, but cynicism is not.

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