“Hybrid autocratic electoral system.” Whatever that means, here is the new Orwellian motto of the European Parliament to describe Hungary. Since Orbán took power in 2010, we know the tune: in the name of the ‘rule of law’ and ‘common values,’ this assembly has unabashedly questioned the legitimacy of Hungarian elections.
For twelve years, the Parliament became the echo chamber of the inept and divided Hungarian opposition which tries to win in Strasbourg what it systematically loses back home. The mechanism is well-oiled: a Red or Green Party MEP in search of political fame writes a vitriolic report against the Hungarian government; he piles up disparate and de-contextualised accusations without head or tail. The Brussels-bubble press and the political lobbies (sometimes called ‘civil society’) repeat the claims and beat the drum until the Parliament (often with the vocal support of the EPP) adopts the final report. So it goes: Each time the Hungarian opposition calls Strasbourg for help to compensate for its national frustrations, an army of messianic mandarins come to rescue the poor Hungarian people from its evil government.
Over time, Hungary (in close competition with Poland) has thus become the most effective way for these elected mandarins to exist and ostensibly signal their virtue. Some Members of the Parliament built an entire career just tweeting compulsively about Orbán. Except in times of war, energy crisis, and recession, this fanaticism of spoiled children disconnected from reality is seriously annoying. Worse, it’s become a threat to the proper functioning of the European Union, exposing its dictatorial impulses along the way. Proclaiming to be the champion of democracy is not enough to avoid being a caricature of it.
Parliament repeatedly speaks out loudly and votes on topics that have nothing to do with the Union. It has become the Trojan horse of the ‘woke’ cult in Europe which, having infiltrated member states under the guise of peace and prosperity, now passes on its ‘progressive’ ideology as the embodiment of ‘European values.’ This alone is unacceptable. That parliament bullies and undermines the work of the Commission and the Council to resolve disputes is problematic. That it intimidates and undermines the work of the Commission and Council to resolve disputes is indecent and totally irresponsible. But that it should seek to punish a crystal clear election victory—by any means necessary—is simply dystopian.
Yet here we are. Strasbourg’s hysterical posturing is above all a political vendetta against 55% of Hungarian voters because they did not vote the right way. Instead, they gave a clear mandate for an openly conservative policy and sent a clear message that there are alternative political pathways for the fourth time in a row. Too much for the zealots who just found in this vote the perfect excuse to use their silver bullet: heavy financial blackmail.
Recently, the Union adopted a conditionality mechanism that makes the payment of EU funds subject to compliance with the ‘rule of law.’ It is a controversial regulation precisely because the contours of this legal concept have been heavily politicised. Fighting corruption and preventing the misuse of European taxpayers’ money is one thing; making funds conditional on a political agenda or on competences that were never transferred to Brussels is another.
Budapest and the Commission have so far played the game of constructive negotiation on concrete points—in spite of the incisive noise of the Parliament, which in its last resolution enjoins the Commission not to pay a cent until Hungary applies all the recommendations of Brussels to the letter (curious, turning ‘recommendations’ into obligations). This is not really in line with the ‘rule of law,’ especially since no other country (except perhaps Poland) would be subjected to this oppressive attention. Hijacking the rule of law to violate the law and create special regimes? Why not? It doesn’t seem to matter that if in doing so, Parliament converts this program into a synonym for ideological caprice.
Dystopian? Without a doubt. This is the general impression that emerges from a quick read of the Parliament’s resolution: technocratic authoritarianism is a democratic ideal, as if submitting the policies of a democratically elected government to the reports of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO); the European Commission; the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe; the Venice Commission; the European Court of Human Rights; the Congress of Local Authorities of the Council of Europe; gender studies institutes, and UNESCO could actually protect the freedoms of a sovereign people! In short, this resolution from the EU has elevated all of the unelected techno-Brahmins on the planet to prevail over the will of the people, forcing them to adhere to a bureaucratic and centralised ‘top-down’ democratic model.
Democracy is first and foremost a ‘bottom up’ affair. So, when an electoral victory as dazzling as that of Orbán’s becomes a crime of ideological insolence we have good reason to be worried. And when a supranational assembly seeks to starve a country financially in retaliation, we should start shivering. If, for the majority of the European Parliament, nations that respect voters’ choices are a problem, then this Parliament has failed. It is nothing less than a dystopia and no longer qualifies as a Parliament. So, from now on, let’s be factual and call it appropriately: ‘a dystopian assembly.’ Full stop. Not even hybrid.
Rodrigo Ballester, former EU official, is the head of the Centre of European Affairs at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest.