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.