Hungary’s continued development toward autocracy prompts challenges for the EU

October 31, 2022

Hungary’s continued development toward autocracy prompts challenges for the EU

Rafael Rienks
October 31, 2022

Hungary’s continued development toward autocracy prompts challenges for the EU

How will having an “electoral autocracy” in their midst affect the EU's solidarity during crises and its normative power abroad?
Rafael Rienks
October 31, 2022
Hungary’s continued development toward autocracy prompts challenges for the EU
Rafael Rienks
Maya Turolla
October 31, 2022
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The European Parliament recently passed a motion concluding that Hungary can no longer be considered a democracy. The breakdown in the rule of law and fundamental rights has made the country a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”. Hungary’s ruling government, it concluded, was to blame for this democratic backsliding.

As a result, the European Commission has recommended suspending 7.5 billion euros in funding allocated to Hungary through a mechanism specifically created to prevent further democratic backsliding by countries like Hungary and Poland. For the past decade, these two countries have formed an illiberal partnership, each vetoing any significant penalties the EU meant to impose on the other. 

Having a non-democratic member poses two distinct problems for the EU. Firstly, internally, it impedes unity and solidarity between member states, which, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have been at an all-time high. This solidarity will be crucial to successfully dealing with the upcoming energy and economic crisis. Besides Hungary, the decision may alienate other countries sympathetic to populist or nationalist ideals as well.

Externally, not being a union of exclusive democracies will hurt Europe's normative power internationally. In its foreign policy, the EU has long tried to promote values such as democracy, liberty and human rights. Much of this promotion has been through leading by example rather than coercion. Having a member which clearly breaches the EU founding values will inevitably diminish the EU’s ability to prescribe them to others.  

Burning questions:
  • In a world where the number of democracies has been falling for almost a decade, how significant will the decrease in European normative power be?
  • A differing stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine significantly strained the Polish-Hungarian relationship. Will this decision bring them closer together again?
  • Among the countries in the Visegrad group, political divergence has increased substantially. Could this development signal the end of the power block?
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