EU Cracks Down on Autocratic Illiberalism in a Vote Favoring Hungarian Sanctions
On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 12th, the European Parliament voted in favor of a process of sanctions against the Hungarian state, which under the leadership of Viktor Orban, has gone down a path of illiberalism, defiant to the basic tenets of rule of law and democracy upheld by the EU. In an over two-thirds majority vote, with 448 to 197 votes in favor, the decision symbolizes a growing intolerance across Europe for rising illiberal and autocratic government behavior. The vote also signals Orban and Hungary’s increasing isolation from their traditional political allies within the EU, and marks a precedent in the future of ensuring EU member compliance and accountability.
Orban’s leadership at the helm of the Hungarian government has been characterized by the implementation of numerous measures for nearly over a decade that work to to concentrate power and centralize control in the hands of the Hungarian Fidesz Party. After gaining office initially in 2010, Orban has embarked on altering the face of his party’s control over the government. From developing a new constitution, restraining the autonomy of the judiciary, and doling out political appointees as personal favors, Orban has essentially removed the systemic government checks and constraints on his power, and has evaded the condemnation of the EU and European partners in the process.
From his declaration in 2014 of intent for a Hungarian, “‘illiberal state,’” Orban has increasingly shown a lack of restraint towards authoritarian tendencies. Dalibor Rohac distinguishes that, while there do exist many areas in need of social reform and progressive improvement within Hungarian society, the key premise of contention here regarding EU sanctioning, stems from Orban and the Hungarian government’s lack of regard for upholding basic democratic principles, and their overwhelming tendency towards unchecked, autocratic behavior.
In this manner, Hungary is not the only European country generating such cause for EU concern. Poland in 2017 garnered the attention of the EU for its similarly oriented activity, but this most recent move for Hungarian sanctioning represents a new, more hardline approach in Europe’s denunciation of negligence for the rule of law. This rising consensus amongst the political platform variants across Europe for a basic underlying respect for democratic ways of governance, reflect in the outcome of the European Parliament’s vote.
Wednesday’s favorable move to pursue Hungarian sanctions, follows the route of the EU’s Article 7 procedures, in which Hungary’s voting power within the EU may be revoked as consequence for the government’s unseemly activity. The vote marks a decisive point of departure between Fidesz and Orban’s traditional allies within the Parliament, the European People’s Party bloc or EPP, of which the Hungarian party is a member. Notably EPP members voted in favor of the sanctions against Hungary, with even the head of the bloc, Manfred Weber, having voted for the enactment of Article 7. Orban’s indignation and previous refusal when called upon for compromise measures to address the issues of illiberalism in the Hungarian government, are stipulated to have been cause for the majority European desire to seek action against the country’s leadership. It remains to be seen whether or not Hungary’s voting power in the EU will actually be restricted as the Article 7 path predicts; nevertheless, the vote in favor is a substantial move towards EU solidarity in addressing the problems of autocracy and corruption in Europe’s government.