Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who presents himself as the defender of Europe from Muslim migrants, challenges the EU’s rejection of Hungary’s migration law. PM Orban is known for his authoritarian practices in Hungary on migration, freedom of media, and LGBT+. Clashes over these issues between the EU and Hungary are now experiencing a new level of tensity as Hungary rejects to comply with Court Justice of European Union decisions.
Hungary is now facing a potential financial sanction because Court Justice of the European Union (CJEU) found out that Orban’s government’s actions violated and contradicted the EU laws regarding the immigrants. The Bill, which was found contradicting with EU laws, included deportation of asylum seekers to Serbia and criminalization of the individuals and civil society organizations who assist refugees to settle in Hungary.
The 2018 “Stop Soros” Bill was designed by Orban’s government to “keep Hungary safe from migrants”. However, CJEU announced the violation of EU laws by Orban’s authoritarian government “failed to fulfill its legal obligations under EU Law” in November 2021. As a response, Orban’s government challenged the decision and EU. Orban, in his year-end speech, said: “We will not do anything to change the system of border protection. We will maintain the existing regime, even if the European court ordered us to change it.”
This is not the first example of Hungary that is clashing with the EU obligations. Orban and his government are known for their authoritarian practices. Especially on migration-related issues, EU and Orban’s ideas and values are mostly contradicting. The problem of migration has deep roots in Orban’s government. During his term after 2010, nearly a million skilled workers have left the country, and this resulted in a labor shortage within Hungary.
In May 2015, European Union imposed mandatory quotas to each country to redistribute the immigrant flow in Europe however Orban didn’t welcome this quota. He replied saying “No one will tell us who we let into our own house”. Even becoming more extremist, Orban built a 175-km wall on the southern border of the country and demanded half of the cost of the wall from the EU by saying “protecting all citizens of Europe from the flood of illegal migrants.”
Now, the tension is high. EU’s court ruled to stop the implementation of the bill. The answer of the constitutional court was awaited by many people and Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said: “The abstract interpretation of the Fundamental Law cannot be subject of the ECJ judgment.”. Just like his justice minister hiding behind the “Fundamental Law”, acting in the name of protecting Hungarian interests and internal security became a tool for Orban’s government to legitimize their actions. Orban tried to legitimize his approach by saying: “This can be solved by one thing: changing the European asylum rules, but this process has not even started yet.”
However, the EU is not willing to let Hungary sustain these authoritarian practices. In the past, the Orban government faced the serious possibility of sanctions from the EU against its anti-LGBT practices. Now, the EU is going to use financial sanctions as a mechanism to stop Orban from implementing his authoritarian principles including the “Stop Soros” Law.
Hungary and Poland are the group of EU countries who experience most conflicts with the EU due to their authoritarian and EU-values contradicting practices. Now Top EU officials are planning to deprive Hungary and Poland of their right of pandemic cash from the EU to impose a sanction that prevents further democratic backsliding. However, the mechanisms of the EU seem to not prevent Orban from neither the “Stop Soros” law nor his other authoritarian practices. He responded to a question in a populist manner about the possible financial sanctions from the EU as the following: “The whole process, from the point of view of the unity and the future of Europe, is the most brutal sabotage. This is what shatters the EU.”
“Democracy no longer ends with a bang but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions such as the judiciary and the press and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms.” (Ziblatt & Levitsky, 2017). This quote explains the democratic backsliding in Hungary very well because since the Orban government captured the Office, their primary goal was to weaken parliament, judiciary, press, and civil society while providing an unfair election system to increase their authoritarian capabilities. Now with his increased capabilities, Orban will likely increase his power over the state and will be able to make unregulated decisions under the name of the government. This type of authoritarian governing type is classified and defined by Varol as “Stealth Authoritarianism”. He further explains this concept as the following: “In so doing, the new generation of authoritarians cloak repressive measures under the mask of law, imbue them with the veneer of legitimacy, and render authoritarian practices much more difficult to detect and eliminate.”. Orban is a great example of this concept. He legitimizes his actions by the power of the office, which results in a false sense of legitimization. Therefore, Orban seems unlikely to deter from his authoritarian and anti-EU, migrant practices in the short run.
Orban’s Hungary is suffering from authoritarianism and repression since the FIDESZ government’s election in 2010. With the increase in the number of authoritarian leaders and countries within democracies like Turkey and Russia, political actors in other countries see an opportunity to raise as populists to capture the full power of the state. Hungary and Poland are examples of European Union countries that seized this opportunity. However, since his election in 2010, Orban gradually increased his capabilities over the State and now created an unregulated illiberal system for himself in which his legislation and decisions do not face any check or an opposition. This kind of power emerges with the populist and authoritarian governments in Hungary and now poses a threat for the EU. Neither EU nor Hungary is likely to loosen their stances; therefore, there is uncertainty in the future of EU-Hungary relations. The only thing certain is the fact that Orban resources his powers from the values which are the exact opposite of EU values, therefore the relationship will most likely include a conflict.
Migration: Commission refers HUNGARY to the Court of Justice of the European Union over its failure to comply with Court judgment. (2021). European Commission – European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_5801
Szakacs, G., & Than, K. (2021, December 10). Hungary’s top court avoids ruling on primacy of EU law. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/hungarian-court-rule-challenge-eu-law-says-orban-2021-12-10/
The man who thinks Europe has been invaded. (2021). BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/Viktor_Orban
BBC News. (2021, December 21). Hungary’s Viktor Orban to defy EU over immigration law. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59748173
Ziblatt, D. Z., & Levitsky, S. L. (2017). How Democracies Die. VIKIN.
Varol, O. V. (2015). Stealth Authoritarianism. Iowa Law Review, 100(4). https://ilr.law.uiowa.edu/print/volume-100-issue-4/stealth-authoritarianism/
Photo by Pietro Naj-Oleari, “Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary/ European Parliament” (Flickr), Creative Commons Zero license.