1. What is the backdrop?
Since 2010, Orban has made it harder for foreigners to hold the government to account. He appointed loyalists to the courts, the attorney general’s office and the media authority. A large parliamentary majority allowed him to write a new constitution that opposition critics have condemned as an attack on democracy and human rights. And it targets minorities, including Roma and LGBTQ communities, seeking to limit their rights. In 2019, Hungary became the first EU country to lose its full democracy rating to Freedom House, a Washington-based advocacy group that assesses political systems. Meanwhile, Transparency International, a nonprofit corruption watchdog, ranks Hungary among the most corrupt countries in the 27-nation bloc.
While governments must adopt strict democratic criteria to join the world’s largest trading bloc, few tools are available to deal with wayward members once they join. The EU tried legal action, but Orban always found a way out – dragging his feet on demands for change, striking deals that failed to significantly reduce his power and exploiting loopholes in his own charters. block legal. In addition, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel shielded Orban, arguing that too much pressure on him could cause Hungary to follow the UK in its decision to leave the EU. He also found allies in Poland, where the nationalist Law & Justice party took power in 2015 and has continued to emulate Orban’s policies. Orban has also forged ties with populist politicians elsewhere like Marine Le Pen in France and Giorgia Meloni in Italy.
The European Parliament voted in 2018 to launch a rule of law inquiry against Hungary in what it called “a clear risk of a serious breach” of EU democratic principles. A new legal process passed in 2020 allows the EU to potentially cut off funding where its financial interests could be compromised. The European Commission, the EU’s executive, triggered this so-called conditionality mechanism at the end of April. She has until the end of September to make her recommendation to the European Council, where the leaders of EU member states take the most important decisions.
4. Is the investigation related to democracy or corruption?
The two are closely linked, but the committee must limit its inquiry to areas that could affect the EU budget and damage the bloc’s financial interests. So while Orban’s comments about racial purity, his crackdown on independent media, or his restrictions on LGBTQ rights have sparked condemnation from others within the EU, they are not the focus of the debate. investigation. The independence of the judiciary, however, is in the spotlight as it is considered essential to a country’s ability to fight corruption and deliver impartial judgments.
5. How much money is at stake?
The European Commission has not indicated how much is at risk. The country’s share of the 2021-2027 EU budget is around 36 billion euros ($36.5 billion). There is also Hungary’s €5.8 billion share of pandemic recovery funds. The EU delayed its release, citing corruption concerns. The forint has been one of the world’s worst performing currencies this year, with investors citing the uncertain outlook for EU funds as contributing to the selloff.
6. How did the Hungarian government react?
At first, Orban’s ministers attacked the EU’s decision to open the investigation, calling it a political move to help the newly defeated opposition. But aware of the need to unlock EU funds, the government has proposed what it calls a “comprehensive” package of measures to address corruption issues, including the creation of a new anti-corruption agency.
It’s not clear. Orban has been adept at outwitting EU institutions over the past decade and critics see his promises of reform ring hollow. For example, he pledged to make the anti-corruption agency “independent”. But other nominally autonomous institutions in Hungary are nonetheless heavily influenced by Orban and his ruling party, including the courts. This time, the EU could make the disbursement of funds conditional on the actual implementation of any pledges. The committee could also recommend cutting funding or closing the investigation against Hungary. The final decision of the leaders would come one to three months later.
8. Could Hungary one day leave the EU?
Orban said he intended to keep Hungary in the EU. Its export-oriented economy relies heavily on the free movement of goods and services. The UK’s torturous exit from the EU has also shown how difficult the exit process can be for both sides. Additionally, the raging conflict in neighboring Ukraine has given Hungarians a sense of security within the EU (as well as the NATO military alliance). But it’s hard to see Orban willingly unraveling the legal changes of the past decade and launching a spirited campaign against corruption. The ruling elite and their business allies benefited greatly from his tenure. Hungarian Finance Minister Mihaly Varga said last year that if the EU maintained its criticism, Hungary could reassess its membership at the end of this decade, when it was expected to become a net contributor to the bloc’s budget.
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