Hungary's government is out of control and must be condemned for its unprecedented attack on democracy – writes the interim president of the Party of European Socialists
Hungarian democracy is under siege. The actions of the conservative Fidesz government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have resulted in an unprecedented attack on basic international democratic standards. It is an extraordinary thing to say in the year 2012, but the cold hard fact is that the European Union could now be said to include a non-democratic state as one of its members.
Now it is a test for European leaders and institutions of their commitment to democratic values when democracy is at stake. It is not a matter of internal policy but rather the question of whether the EU will preserve one of its core values and features. A new constitution has been in place in Hungary since January 1 this year. It contains set of provisions that are an attempt to institutionalise authoritarian rule. The measures have been, accurately, described as a 'constitutional coup'.
Hungary needs Europe's help before authoritarian measures cause lasting damage to public institutions, and most importantly, to the people, of all creeds and nationalities, living in Hungary today. We cannot even talk of the problems in the Republic of Hungary, as the 'republic' no longer exists. Even the name of the country has been changed to reflect the growing emphasise on Hungarian nationalism.
We welcomed the efforts of Hungarian opposition parties who staged a pro-democracy rally in the centre of Budapest on January 2. The rally was in protest at the increasingly authoritarian measures of the ruling Fidesz party. In particular, reductions in judicial, media and central bank independence have severely damaged the democratic infrastructure of Hungary. Over 100,000 citizens attended the rally.
The Socialist Party MSZP, under the leadership of Attila Mesterhazy, is building a domestic coalition for democracy. The coalition is based on the most powerful force in any society – its people. The Party of European Socialists is committed to ensuring support for this coalition. Our role is to help build global awareness that the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán is out of control. We are providing the domestic opposition, now we must match that with international condemnation of Orbán's government.
Measures introduced in the Hungarian constitution:
- The Constitutional Court has been stripped of its powers
- The government can decide which judges will review which cases
- The supervision of elections is overseen by a new Council of Government party appointees
- A'media board' of government appointees has been given power to decide what constitutes "balanced" media coverage and has been allowed to impose fines which only be appealed after payment
- Tax and fiscal policy, including a new flat tax, can only be changed by a two-thirds majority.
- The government can appoint a deputy governor to the central bank
- Provisions to protect citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation have been deleted.
International pressure must be publically, forcefully, and repeatedly applied on the Fidesz government to rescind these measures. So far we have had a shocking absence of condemnation from European Conservative leaders, who count Fidesz among their family. Despite a year of steady erosion of democratic standards, there has been near silence. It is only now that the Hungarian government is attacking the independence of the central bank that leaders have been stirred from their slumber.
The European People's Party, which counts Fidesz as a member, should suspend its Hungarian affiliate until internationally acceptable democratic standards are re-established in Hungary. As a parallel measure, the European Parliament should call on the 14 Fidesz MEPs to reject the actions of the government and to commit themselves to upholding internationally acceptable democratic standards.
The EU could now be said to include a non-democratic state as a member
The essential point is this: there does not seem to be any end-point to the actions of Fidesz. Their actions indicate a consistent and quickening slide towards authoritarian rule. Those responsible have not listened to rational requests and they have not heeded eloquent calls to respect democracy. Therefore the international community must look at more robust measures.
The European Commission, in its report due on January 6, should clearly indicate that the new Hungarian constitution does not meet international or EU standards of democracy. The quality of the public service institutions reflects the quality of the society. We are proud to issue this plea through PublicServiceEurope.com
. Socialist and social democratic principles have helped make Europe a place where democratic institutions command global respect. Now we are called on to prove our commitment to these institutions and to these principles.
In 2012, the predictions are that the economic crisis will get worse before it gets better. Social tensions run the risk of becoming serious societal strains. There will be risks of polarisation and risks of nationalistic exclusivity. The tensions exist not just in Hungary. Evidence of election fraud exists in Bulgaria, while in Romania far right rhetoric is becoming increasingly accepted. Our principles and our institutions, based on inclusiveness and independence are needed more than ever. The way we react to this crisis will define us. We call on the international community to join us in ensuring that Hungary returns once again to the democratic fold.Sergei Stanishev is interim president of the Party of European Socialists