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Is Hungary On The Verge Of Destabilizing The Eu

The EU is in the midst of a democratic crisis over which it has no control.

Johnny Luk is a strategic strategist, a university governor, and a Conservative candidate for parliament in the United Kingdom in 2019.

He formerly worked for the UK government on Brexit negotiations and was a former junior British rowing champion.

Hungary’s new anti-LGBTQ law, which went into force on July 7, has reignited EU tensions over what to do with a rogue member state.

Following a incident last year in which the Hungarian Ambassador to Peru received only a paltry fine for collecting hundreds of indecent images of youngsters, the new bill – which incorporates the new Child Protection Act and the Family Protection Act – was aimed to safeguard children from paedophiles.

The troubles began in June, when Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, introduced legislation to restrict LGBTQ education and rights, including prohibiting anything considered to promote homosexuality or gender change to minors in schools, advertisements, and even on television broadcasts before the 10 p.m. watershed.

Fellow EU leaders have reacted angrily to this decision.

The strongest attitude was taken by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who stated on June 24 that Hungary deserved to be kicked out of the EU and promised to bring Hungary “to its knees” over the LGBTQ issue.

The new rule appears to be in violation of Article 2 of the EU’s founding treaty, which says that discrimination on the basis of sexuality, ethnicity, or gender is prohibited under the terms of membership.

Hungary’s democracy is still in its early stages.

In 1991, the country was freed from Soviet Communist authority and began a quick swing to the West, embracing free markets.

Hungary’s entrance into the EU in 2004, with a landslide 83 percent approval in a popular referendum, should have secured Hungary’s place within Western democratic thinking even further.

Yet, that optimism was short-lived.

Hungary’s treatment of the LGBTQ minority is the latest example of Hungary’s disregard for EU standards and ideals.

When far-right Prime Minister Victor Orban took power in 2010, institutions aimed at limiting the state’s power, such as a free press and an independent court, have been actively dismantled.

His government began to centralize the court on January 1, 2012, by lowering the retirement age for judges from 70 to 62, forcing more than 200 to retire.

In November 2012, the European Commission raised the issue, and the European Court of Justice deemed it illegal.

The retirement clause was later revoked by Orban, but while the legal verdict guaranteed dismissed judges compensation or reinstatement of their judicial status, it did not ensure a return to a senior position, essentially ending their careers.

As a result of this loophole, 90% of the judges were not re-instated, many of them were seen by Orban as being too independent-minded for the government.

The Hungarian government has further reinforced its media control by combining media regulation into a single entity, the Media Authority, which is overseen by the Media Council, whose head is nominated directly by the prime minister.

Orban used a similar strategy to take power of Hungary’s 11 state-funded universities, which were once hotbeds of anti-government and social liberal ideology, by handing over control to new educational foundations overseen by Orban supporters and endowed with billions of euros.

These foundations’ trustees are likewise appointed directly by the government.

Hungary’s democratic backsliding under its increasingly authoritarian government is well known to the EU.

During EU summits, former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker used to address Orban as “Mr Dictator.”

Orban makes no attempt to conceal his actions, publicly pushing for “illiberal democracy” and regularly criticizing Western liberal democracy for failing to defend the public’s riches and interests in the same way that his kind of centralised control can.

Furthermore, Orban appears to enjoy antagonizing the EU, routinely vetoing EU attempts to present a united front on foreign policy, most notably blocking the EU from unanimously calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to allow humanitarian relief into Gaza, damaging the EU’s role as a global influencer.

Orban, a close ally of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thought the proposed statement was unfair to Israel.

Earlier this year, amid concerns about the EU’s delayed vaccine rollout, Hungary went it alone, becoming the first EU country to take both Russian and Chinese vaccinations before the European Medicines Agency approved them.

Although there is no EU legislation prohibiting countries from doing so, it undermines the EU’s leadership in this area.

Orban is a brilliant tactician as well as a master at causing trouble for the EU.

He has guided Hungary to become the EU budget’s second-largest net recipient, receiving more than 5 billion euros ($5.9 billion) each year than it contributes to the EU budget.

Yet, he is able to portray the EU’s complaints of his rule as “foreign intervention,” catering to his right-wing constituency.

He has maintained a two-thirds majority for his party in the Hungarian National Assembly, giving him entire control of Hungary’s legislative agenda, in addition to tilting elections in his favor via aggressive gerrymandering of parliamentary constituencies. So far, his tactic has proven popular, and he has maintained a two-thirds majority for his party in the Hungarian National Assembly, giving him overall control of Hungary’s legislative agenda.

The situation for other EU members has become untenable as a member state no longer follows EU regulations while gladly accepting EU funds.

The EU is based on rights and obligations that are fiercely guarded while it works to harmonize rules, lower trade barriers, and transfer power from member states to the EU center in order to achieve its goal of an “ever-closer union.”

Members that violate any item should be treated as if they were a member state that failed to apply EU standards to products and services while staying in the single market.

But, the EU’s typical methods for persuading member states to follow the rules have proven tragically unproductive so far.

EU leaders argue about a variety of issues all the time, from fisheries to foreign migrants to budget ideas.

To bring leaders around a negotiating table for the sake of unity, the EU usually uses a sharp press statement, a rebuke from a speaker podium, or a vote in the EU parliament.

Notwithstanding the EU leaders’ frustrated remarks and the Parliament’s condemnation of Hungary’s actions, none of these tactics have prevented Hungary from moving away from EU values.

For non-compliance with EU legislation, the EU may initiate a lengthy infraction process, which might result in fines of up to 100,000 euros ($118,000) each day.

As a result of the new anti-LGBTQ law, this is likely to happen immediately.

Additionally, on July 9, members of the European Parliament decisively voted in favor of the European Commission taking Hungary to the European Court of Justice over the new law (459 in favor, 147 against, 58 abstentions).

Hungary, on the other hand, might simply bide its time or exploit loopholes in any verdict against it, as it has in the past.

The EU might use a sanction mechanism known as Article 7 to address egregious and persistent breaches of EU values, such as the rule of law, democracy, and respect for human dignity and life, for a more meaningful effect.

This could result in the offending country’s voting rights being revoked.

Both Hungary and its close partner, Poland, which is also experiencing democratic backsliding, have been subjected to the Article 7 process, but unfortunately, it is EU laws that have prevented the EU from taking any serious action, as penalties require unanimous approval from EU member states.

Hungary and Poland just use their veto powers to protect each other’s interests.

There is also no mechanism to force an EU member state to leave against its choice, giving Hungary little reason to adjust its win-win formula.

This severely undercuts the democratic prerequisites for EU membership, and it may encourage prospective EU members, such as countries in the Balkans, to regard such requirements as optional after admission.

To be deposed, Orban will need to lose the next election in 2022, and even then, the opposition would need to win two-thirds of parliamentary seats – a extremely implausible scenario – to undo the illiberal measures he has enshrined in the Hungarian constitution.

As a result, Hungary will continue to sabotage the EU’s ability to exert credible influence over other countries on democratic principles or demand compliance with EU laws and obligations in trade talks.

Hungary’s actions will serve as a model for right-wing populists in other EU countries to incite the next wave of political agitators.

Hungary’s authoritarian slide could be slowed by the EU.

The EU is increasingly waking up to the idea that it needs to resort to similar strategies, just as Hungary has been inventive in weakening the EU.

In addition to bringing Hungary back to the European Court of Justice on the latest LGBTQ law, EU authorities are now more likely to restrict Hungary’s funding, including withdrawing key COVID recovery payments, in order to put pressure on Orban.

This strategy may harm ordinary Hungarians, but it demonstrates the EU’s growing urgency to bring Hungary back into line with the rest of the EU; it recognizes that the EU project’s existence is now in jeopardy.

The authors’ opinions are their own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.

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