Hungary and the EU: Is the situation really so bad?

By Armin Ladanyi

Why am I writing about this situation?
In the past few days, I was countlessly asked by my fellow students whether or not Hungary would be expelled from the European Union. After my fifth interrogator, I decided to write an article about the current situation, in which I will try to be as neutral as possible in answering these concerns. My intention is to describe the political situation in Hungary and to clarify why it is unlikely that Hungary will exit the European Union.

Why are we talking about Hungary’s removal from the EU?
Several threats were made by the EU against Hungary and Poland. Most recently, on September 12th 2017, Angela Merkel gave her opinion in an interview to the Berliner Zeitung about Hungary, and criticized how the Hungarian and Slovakian governments interfered with the EU’s 2015 policy to disperse approximately 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to the other 26 member states.

A year ago, the Luxembourger politician Jean Asselborn condemned the fence built along the Hungarian border, highlighted a growing hostility within the country, and emphasized that the freedom of the press and independence of the judiciary branch were strongly infringed upon. In light of this, he considered the expulsion of Hungary from the EU.

About the ruling party
In 2010, the Fidesz became the governing party in coalition with a smaller Christian-Democrat party, the KDNP, and Viktor Orbán was re-elected Prime minister after having served his first term between 1998 and 2002. Although only 64,20% of the parliament voted for them, they gained enough power over the other parties. Therefore, they could create a new constitution without any obstacle. They consolidated their power with well-timed inaugurations of some newly reconstructed squares and points of interest in Budapest, and emphasized through their campaigns that “Hungary is doing better”. They could win the elections again. However, despite having a 2/3 majority, they only captured 61,24% of the seats in the recent elections. The high level of corruption the government is most to blame in this loss of seats.

Why is Hungary in focus?
Every strong power makes efforts to maintain its power. As we know from history, a popular and frequently used method for this objective is to create an enemy and characterize oneself as a strong protector from this threat. The Fidesz used the same strategy. After the “Welcome Refugees” policy led by Angela Merkel, in 2015, the migration flow to Hungary was increased. To illustrate the situation, according to the records of the Hungarian Police Forces, from January 5th to September 30th the number of arriving migrants in Hungary per week increased from 2,578 to 30,494. The Hungarian highways and the train stations were equally hampered by these arrivals, and the human smugglers posed an additional issue. In response, the government decided to build a fence to avoid any increased tension and immediately began construction in September. However, the crisis was not totally solved. The direction of the migration was reoriented south towards Croatia.

George Soros and the hate campaign
As one of New York’s richest businessmen, the 87 year old Hungarian Jew is the leader of several foundations which support education, new talent and of course the needy, particularly in Hungary. He established the Central European University in Budapest in 1991, after the democratic transformation in 1989. Certain members of the Fidesz party even attended this university or took advantage of the several scholarships which helped them finish their studies in high-quality universities. Viktor Orbán, for instance, studied at Oxford University thanks to this scholarship.

With the migration crisis, the generous helpers became a new “evil” for the government. Many of Soros’ NGOs helped refugees survive the difficult circumstances, in complete opposition to the anti-migration campaign of the Fidesz that stated that immigrants steal Hungarian jobs. First against Soros, and then against the civil organizations, the government led a stronger and stronger campaign. The hate campaign also blamed Brussels for taking steps against the Hungarian sovereignty by relocating unwanted migrants to the country.

Why are the threats of exclusion just political verbal weapons from the EU ?
First of all, forced removal is impossible in the EU. Since the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), only voluntary-exit is possible. Nevertheless, as we see with Brexit, it is a lengthy and sluggish process.
On the other hand, there are some opportunities for the member states. They cannot kick out a country but they are able (in theory) to temporarily exclude the government from the decision-making, which affects the mentioned country and means the suspension of some rights of the country (detailed in Article 7).

However, it is very hard to temporarily suspend a country from the EU. For starters, 16 member states (55% of the EU) must vote in favor of this suspension. Additionally, this is not enough to suspend a member state; suspension is only possible when it has been established that a basic value of the EU have been infringed. But for this, the member states must vote in consensus, which is highly unlikely because everybody has at least one ally who is against it. Finally, according to a 2017 survey of the EPRS (European Parliamentary Research Service), 63% of Hungarians feel European and consider the EU membership as a positive factor.

Economic reasons to stay in the EU
Hungary is the one of the biggest supporters of international companies within the European Union. It has the lowest rate of after-profit taxation, and there are high incentives for factories to settle in Hungary through non-refundable loans. Germany is one of the biggest countries who takes advantage of this, with many German factories based in Hungary such as Mercedes, Audi, and Thyssenkrupp. Germany in effect, does not want to jeopardize its economic interests, as Hungary is one of the biggest economic powers within the EU.

The goals of the EU
The purpose of the EU is not to punish the whole population of a country simply because “the government does not respect the basic values” of its convention. It is possible to refer countries to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which can conduct an examination and determine afterwards a fine or withdrawal of support.

On the other hand, cooperation and compromise would be the most expedient solution. The EU was initially established to solve common European problems and challenges, so it is definitely best to turn to the EU for solutions, rather than to turn away from it.

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