It is over two months now, that PM Orbán has submitted a law of emergency to the Hungarian Parliament. Already at the time of the parliamentary debate of the bill, the intentions of the PM were questioned and heavily criticized not only by all opposition parties but also the general public, home and abroad.
Certainly, in the case of an extraordinary situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, governments should be granted extra powers to excelerate action in combating the negative consequences of the outbreak – writes MEP Gyöngyösi on his blog.
In most cases democratically elected governments need such powers to ensure that protective measures are not impeded by the usual tedious but necessary procedures and negotiations between quibbling coalition partners or administrative political processes in parliament. However, this does not mean that governments can escape control, checks and balances, hence a time limitation for exercising such powers must be guaranteed.
Hungary is a special case in this regard. The circumstances of adopting the emergency law should be analysed in the special context of Orbán’s exercise of power in the past decade.
I tend to agree with those who contest even the legitimacy of such a legislation, for Orbán enjoys a supermajority in the Hungarian parliament since 2010 in a single party „coalition”.
According to Gyöngyösi, state propaganda often refers to the minuscule Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) as a coalition party, but it has virtually no sovereign electoral base. With all their MP’s parliamentary seats gained from Fidesz party list, it serves as a satellite with the sole purpose of providing a Christian-Democratic and nationalistic stamp on Orbán’s newest agenda and legitimize his sharp transformation from an ultra-liberal platform over two decades ago.
Ever since the adoption of the new constitution in 2011, followed by the re-writing of every fundamental law requiring a 2/3 majority in parliament (including a new media law and a new electoral law), Orbán has built out a hybrid-regime with democratic institutions only providing a facade concealing a single-party rule. By 2018, Orbán has virtually all institutional powers under his control to make any claim for an emergency legislation redundant.
As a real „political animal”, Orbán’s every move has to be interpreted in the context of maintaining his grip on power.
The Fidesz narrative is simple: Orbán is the man in charge who calls for action in national unity in a time of unprecedented crisis, while his political opponents domestically and internationally try to block him in delivering. Orbán is portrayed as the saviour of a nation continuously attacked home and abroad in an evil plot by a network of Soros-sponsored agents.
Moreover, while every observer is embroiled in a theoretical debate on democratic values and norms, Orbán extends his power beyond every limit.
Just in the course of the past few months, since the adoption of the emergency law Orbán has eliminated the remnants of democratic control and the last remaining pockets of resistance.
Although the scope of the emergency law should be confined to executing policies connected with the defence against the pandemic, the government by decree looted the finances of municipalities, especially those under the control of opposition parties since last October; dished out billions to allied oligarchs; classified for decades gigantic state contracts; stripped political parties of their state funding; drew under state control private business enterprises; detained activists and ordinary citizens for expressing critical views of the government.
At the time of yet another useless debate staged in the European Parliament about the autocratic measures taken by the Hungarian cabinet of Viktor Orbán, one might ponder why the European institutions, or even EPP, the European political family of Fidesz are so inept and paralyzed when it comes to sanctioning one of its members that is clearly in breach of norms and values of the community.
Surely, it must be frustrating for some to see Orbán undermining the EU by constructing an autocratic regime in the heart of Europe, and doing so largely with financial funds received from the EU.
At the end of the day, it is not only a Hungarian domestic affair, or a question of prestige but Orbán’s cynical neglect of the rules clearly endangers the cohesion and credibility of the European Union.
Many suspect that the reason behind Orbán’s impertinent recklessness and the EU’s impotence with him is predominantly economic.
European funds are not only essential for boosting Orbán’s political and economic credentials but it is equally important for EU donor states, predominantly Germany, as received funds are used to buy imported goods and services mainly benefiting the donors.
This is one reason why EU member states are reluctant to use the funding card when threatening Orbán. Furthermore, the Hungarian PM has done more than any of his neoliberal-minded predecessors in accommodating the interest of foreign investors in Hungary, especially at the expense of the Hungarian labour force. An educated but low paid labour force with virtually no labour protection, weak trade unions, abundant state benefits and low tax rates have all been exhausted to keep foreign investors satisfied and hence powerful critics at bay.
The EU is, first and foremost, an economic cooperation, but ultimately it will have to decide about its priorities: profits or values, this is the dilemma.