Orban’s Tactics and EU’s Dilemma: Addressing Hungary’s Challenges

, by Ninni Norra

Orban's Tactics and EU's Dilemma: Addressing Hungary's Challenges
Demonstration of an Hungarian opposition party, Photo by Szilas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hungary might soon face dire consequences for rule of law violations based on Article 7 of the EU Treaties. In an extreme scenario, Hungary’s next Council presidency could be denied.

Viktor Orban and Hungary’s leadership have deliberately undermined the EU’s efficacy, most recently evident in their actions against European aid for Ukraine. The alarming erosion of democratic principles within Hungarian institutions and the disproportionate consolidation of power demand urgent attention from fellow EU members. In this pivotal moment, there’s a war to be won, a democracy to safeguard, and a future to secure. It is therefore imperative that the predicament of Hungary be resolved as swiftly as possible in order for the union to direct its attention to these pressing issues.

Yet, the discourse around sanctions is fraught with challenges and recurrent arguments aimed at diminishing the legitimacy of criticism against Orban’s regime. While some arguments are motivated by sinister intentions, others express genuine concerns about the validity of the conversation itself: Can other Member States truly stand in judgment of Hungary?

This serves as Orban’s bait for the rest of the union. By casting doubt on our core principles and our commitment to upholding them, his narrative of a corrupt union is validated. While no Member State is free of negligence in upholding the core values of the European Union, Hungary‘s situation cannot be explained with innocuous errors in judgment. We are witnessing a systematic attack against liberty.

Furthermore, while self-reflection and improvement are needed for all Member States, too often these discussions stray from basic principles of argumentation. The following examples present some recurring issues in the conversation about Hungary.

1. “Other Member States have also offended EU values. It’s unfair to focus on Orban and Hungary”: Red-herring

While it is true that no European country is immune to misconduct, addressing Hungary’s grave issues requires a focused approach. Constantly diverting attention elsewhere only prolongs the resolution of serious violations at hand. While broader discussions about the rule of law are valuable and greatly needed, they should not come at the expense of addressing Hungary’s specific and extreme situation. Every conversation has its time and place.

2. “Hungary’s treatment is a symptom of cancel culture”: Misuse of anecdotes

Addressing the erosion of Hungarian democracy differs significantly from debates about “cancel culture” or internet discourse. Hungary’s leadership is not a victim of ideological persecution but faces justified consequences for systematically undermining the principles of an open society and the integrity of the European Union. While intolerance and polarisation do indeed plague public discussion, accusations of “cancel culture” are misplaced here, especially in light of Hungary’s very own restrictions on freedom of expression in media and academia.

3. “If Hungary is punished, soon any other Member State could be as well”: Slippery slope

Addressing Hungary’s situation is not a precursor to an EU inquisition silencing free thinkers. Rather, it reaffirms the EU’s commitment to its core values. Passivity in the face of clear violations of those values poses a greater threat than farfetched scenarios of punitive actions spiraling out of control. Hungary’s adherence to common EU principles is expected as is the case with every Member State, and the EU’s response is mild and proportionate. If Orban finds EU values stifling, he is not obligated to keep Hungary as a member state. It’s imperative to recognise that Orban’s advocacy of traditionalist values is largely opportunistic rather than genuine. In his view, this is simply the easiest way to act as an attractive contrarian for those who are unhappy with the system. A master of twisted interpretations, he weaponises the EU’s core values and employs a distorted take on democracy, denoting that people may freely choose to be governed “illiberally”. However, an interpretation of democracy which discards the separation of powers and other core elements of the rule of law can never be accepted within the EU.

For the EU, addressing Hungary’s challenges must take precedence immediately. Orban won’t be held accountable as long as we continue playing the game of semantics and speculation. Broader dialogue about rule of law violations and the dangers of ideological dogmatism ought to be seen as a separate discussion. For now, our commitment must lie with Hungary’s independent civil society, the true defenders of democracy and open society, rather than appeasing Orban and his cronies.

The EU faces a critical test in addressing Hungary’s violations and upholding its core values. The challenges posed by Orban’s regime require a united and decisive response from all Member States. It is high time to reaffirm our commitment to democracy, rule of law, and human rights, and ensure that Hungary’s citizens are not abandoned to suffer under authoritarianism.

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