Hungary can no longer be considered a full-fledged democracy, the European Parliament has declared in a powerful symbolic vote against the government of Viktor Orbán.
In a resolution backed by 81% of MPs present to vote, parliament said Hungary had become a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”, citing a breakdown of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.
Although the vote has no practical effect, it does increase pressure on EU authorities in Brussels not to disburse billions in EU cash to Hungary that are withheld due to concerns about Corruption.
Hungary is fighting to convince the European Commission to release 4.64 billion euros of Covid recovery funds, frozen for more than a year. Budapest is also trying to avoid a separate legal procedure that could lead to deductions of 24.3 billion euros of cohesion funds, money for infrastructure and economic development.
The European Commission is expected to propose on Sunday to cut 70% of Hungary’s cohesion funds, but will also open the door to a compromise, according to two MEPs familiar with the discussions. “More or less what we hear is that the committee will come up with… these financial sanctions or measures,” said Moritz Körner, a German MEP, who was briefed by the committee.
In a recent internal document, Commission officials suggested there was a “very significant” risk to Hungary’s handling of EU funds, citing breaches of public interest rules and an unusually high number of contracts awarded to a single bidder – a wake-up call for transparency watchers. The document, which has been removed from the commission’s website, suggests a 70% reduction in funds as “proportionate” to the risk.
Hungary will have until mid-November to put their house in order. After a charm offensive in Brussels, the Hungarian government is expected to propose a series of anti-corruption laws next week. Critics fear the Commission is ready to agree to cosmetic changes to defuse disputes over EU funds.
“The commission has half-heartedly reached an agreement with the Hungarian government on what kind of change they want to see,” said Daniel Freund, a Green MEP from Germany, also briefed on the commission’s plans. “There is a very short time frame and … expecting the damage that Orbán has done to [his] constitutional majority over 12 years, can now be fixed in weeks, or months, I think that’s optimistic to say the least.
Orbán has been in power since 2010 and held a two-thirds parliamentary majority for much of that time.
A spokesman for the European Commission declined to comment, but said it was analyzing “the corrective measures” submitted by Hungary and had until September 21 to determine the next step.
The resolution of the European Parliament, which points to “the risks of clientelism, favoritism and nepotism in senior public administration”, will however make any questioning of the protection of European funds more difficult.
Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, the French MEP who drafted the resolution, called the conclusions clear and irrevocable. “Hungary is not a democracy. It was more urgent than ever for Parliament to adopt this position, given the alarming rate at which the rule of law is declining in Hungary.
She added that “the vast majority of MEPs supporting this position in the European Parliament is unprecedented”. Of the 534 MEPs present for the vote in Strasbourg, 433 voted for, 123 against and 28 abstained.
The vast majority were helped by Orbán’s decision in 2021 to leave Europe’s centre-right political family, the European People’s Party (EPP). The EPP had previously offered Hungary’s Fidesz party some protection from critical votes, but Orbán withdrew his party before he was expelled by centre-right MEPs.
The vote comes almost exactly four years after MEPs decided to trigger disciplinary action against Hungary, a decision that ultimately rests with the other 26 EU member states, which have mostly shown little appetite for conflict. with Budapest.
MEPs, who do not have the power to withhold funds from Hungary, blamed the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission for their alleged inaction, a point made clear in the resolution. MEPs expressed their “deep regret that the lack of decisive EU action has contributed to the breakdown of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, turning the country into a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”.
Parliament’s damning conclusion was based on reports from bodies belonging to the Council of Europe, as well as case law from the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.
MEPs also cited the verdict of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which reported in April that the Hungarian election that returned Orbán to power for a fourth consecutive term was “marred by lack of a level playing field”. The OSCE sent a full-fledged mission to Hungary, an almost unprecedented step for an EU member state.
The report also noted Hungarian judges’ concerns about judicial independence in their country, after numerous changes made by the Orbán government, including the appointment of Supreme Court judges outside of normal procedures.
The measure met with opposition from MEPs from Eurosceptic and far-right parties. In a statement included in the draft resolution, they argued that the conclusions were “based on subjective opinions and politically biased statements” that reflected “vague concerns, value judgments and double standards”.
These MEPs also claimed that the report was based on “cases which have been settled long ago by the competent bodies, or which concern issues which are part of the public debate and fall within the sole competence of the Member States”.