06:51, June 22 66 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-22 06:51:05
First thoughts  
 Hungary is making a mockery of EU values. It’s time to kick it out

It’s time for the European Union to kick Hungary out. There it is, a member state, casually flouting basic democratic norms and human rights, swiftly evolving into an authoritarian nightmare, with absolutely no meaningful consequences. Consider the latest act in Hungary’s slide towards what its prime minister Viktor Orbán boasts is an “illiberal democracy”. The country’s parliament has not just passed a law making claims for asylum almost impossible: the very act of helping migrants and refugees has been criminalised. Furthermore, a 25% tax has been slapped on funding for NGOs that “support immigration”: in practice, that means having anything positive to say about immigration. In the same week, the musical Billy Elliot was cancelled in Budapest after a vicious homophobic campaign by the pro-government press, including the claim in one government-linked newspaper that it could “transform Hungarian boys into homosexuals”.

In its war on democracy, the Orbán government has launched a bitter campaign against George Soros that is littered with antisemitic tropes. His Open Society Foundations network is leaving Budapest because of what it calls “an increasingly repressive political and legal environment.” Another target of the government is Budapest’s Central European University, seen as a focal point for anti-Orbán sentiment, which says legal and political pressure may drive it out of the country. The state media promotes pro-government propaganda and smears the opposition; pro-government media is buying up independent publications; while media outlets which are opposed or critical of Orbán are under growing pressure.

And yet – as Michael Ignatieff, rector of the Central European University – puts it, this is happening with the “collusion and compliance” of the EU. Orbán’s Fidesz party remains a member of the European People’s party – the grouping of the EU’s centre-right parties – which, when it met in Warsaw earlier this month, failed to even reprimand Hungary. The EPP leader Manfred Weber – an ally of Angela Merkel – has even leapt to Orbán’s defence.

At the very least, article 7 of the Lisbon treaty – which demands “all EU countries respect the values of the EU” – should be activated, with the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights and other sanctions. This demand has already been made by the European parliament’s civil liberties committee, which lists 12 breaches ranging from the weakening of the judiciary to restrictions on free speech. But Hungary, along with increasingly authoritarian Poland, is making an utter mockery of the EU’s stated commitment to democracy and human rights. In 2016 Luxembourg’s foreign minister called for Hungary to be expelled from the EU because of its treatment of refugees. He is right. Yes, the EU is buffeted by multiple crises, from Brexit to the assumption of power of a Eurosceptic Italian government. But its acceptance of its own member states succumbing to authoritarianism may prove its greatest existential threat of all.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

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