Is Brussels tough enough on Hungary?

Representatives of the EU Commission and MEPs have voiced harsh criticism of Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán during his visit to the EU Parliament. The Commission simultaneously launched infringement proceedings against Hungary over its new higher education law. Further sanctions against Orbán's autocratic regime must follow, some commentators argue. Others find the criticism of the prime minister pathetic.

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Dennik N (SK) /

Money the only way to put Orbán under pressure

The European Parliament's criticism of Viktor Orbán was just a show put on by the MEPs to draw attention to themselves, Dennik N complains:

“Certainly, the number of politicians in the European People's Party who are no longer willing to defend Orbán is growing. For the majority, however, it's more important that the eleven Fidesz members can be relied on to vote regularly with the parliamentary group. This basic attitude also goes for the European Commission. All it wants is a few cosmetic changes to Orbán's higher education law, which will have no effect whatsoever on his autocratic regime. ... Basically the only people who can make an impact are the voters. But that doesn't mean that the Union is hamstrung. Orbán depends on European subsidies. A thorough investigation into how they're used could do more than all the MEPs' ramblings.”

Mozgástér (HU) /

EU criticism of Hungarian PM pathetic

The reactions to Orbán's appearance at the EU Parliament on Tuesday highlight what a pitiful state the EU is in, pro-government political scientist Tamás Lánczi writes on blog portal Mozgástér:

“It's sobering to see Europe's elite in such a pitiful mental state. The hysterical statements of left-liberal politicians concerning Orbán are highly distorted and extremely slanderous. Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, even evoked the prospect of Literature Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész's books being burned and the introduction of the death penalty. ... The European elite hasn't understood a thing about what's happening in Europe. It churns out its outdated political phrases ever more stiffly and resolutely. Despite this strong headwind from the EU Orbán has remained steadfast, led astray neither by intimidations nor by blackmail.”

Der Standard (AT) /

The right kind of pressure

EU treaty infringement procedures are clearly the only means of pressure that can get a reaction out of Viktor Orbán, Der Standard explains:

“First he took action against independent-minded judges, then against the media. He initiated legislation aimed at putting his rivals at a disadvantage during elections, and tried to limit the freedom of religion. That led the Commission to initiate proceedings against the Orbán government several times, or to warn that it must comply with EU regulations. And again and again Orbán gave in, though often only once the wave of justified indignation over his carryings-on had subsided. It could be the same this time round regarding his dubious higher education reform and 'anti-EU referendum'. Orbán is currently playing dumb: Surely one is entitled to ask the people what they think! Certainly. The Commission, however, must maintain legal and political pressure on this reactionary provocateur who disregards the liberal European system of values.”

Pravda (SK) /

At last Orbán has been slapped in the face

So far the EU has been very lenient with Viktor Orbán despite the gradual dismantling of democracy in Hungary, Pravda comments:

“Naturally Hungary still has free elections, freedom of expression (officially) and independent courts. But all the institutions and regulations have been customised to suit the ruling party Fidesz. Orbán is consolidating his power step by step. The EU Commission issuing the odd declaration every now and then doesn't bother this autocrat. But now its patience is coming to an end: only dictators attack academic freedom. The Commission could no longer remain silent after that. On the issue of the new higher education law, which has the clear goal of liquidating the Central European University, it had to take legal steps against Budapest. Orbán tried to downplay this in the European Parliament, but this is nonetheless a slap in the face for him.”

Financial Times (GB) /

EU must remove kid gloves

The Financial Times, by contrast, believes that Brussels and the other EU states should do much more to counter the erosion of democracy in Hungary and other Eastern European states:

“The EU needs to make more effective use of the limited means it has to enforce membership rules. It should also be far more vigilant in scrutinising allegations of corruption in Hungary's use of EU funds. In the meantime, Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, would send a strong signal in defence of EU values by initiating moves to expel Mr Orban's Fidesz party from the European People's party bloc. Her Christian Democratic Union has resisted doing so thus far because the EPP would lose its majority in the EU parliament. ... To stop him, and the tide of 'illiberal' thinking across Europe's east, the EU must impose costs.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Poland copying Hungary's anti-democratic moves

Warsaw is likely to end up in trouble now, Gazeta Wyborcza believes, describing how the PiS government is following the example of Orbán's Fidesz:

“The Party for Law and Justice (PiS) has copied without reservation almost all the laws and political solutions adopted in Hungary. A record number of representatives from Poland have travelled to the Danube for this purpose. The Polish government has copied not just the ideas but also the language of Hungary. This can be seen in the refugee issue or when it comes to dealing with non-governmental organisations. Poland's deputy justice minister recently said that the judge caste needed to be dealt with because it lacked a democratic mandate and was not elected by the people - unlike the PiS. This is plagiarising Fidesz.”