Turbulent Times in European Politics – The Populist/Illiberal Factor

2017. március. 18., szombat | Hegedűs István

Welcome speech at the workshop „Reforming the EU - Central European Perspectives” organised by the Hungarian Europe Society on 18 March 2017 at the Central European University, Budapest

It is an understatement to claim that we live in turbulent times. This is a decisive, historic period for the future of Europe and the globe. At the moment, 2017 seems to be the year when the negative political tendencies expressed in Brexit and Trump’s victory in 2016 can be finally stopped and, probably, reversed. We had good news from the Netherlands on 15 March and we have realistic hopes for the French presidential elections and the German parliamentary elections: radical right wing populist parties might be blocked in gaining more influence and power at national and at European levels. Interestingly enough, there is no common formula how to defeat them: in Holland, at least the winning party’s leader, Mark Rutte moved to the right during the campaign in order to bring back voters from Gert Wilders, in France, a new centrist political leader, Emmanuel Macron has grasped the imagination of citizens with pro-European messages, whilst in Germany a relative newcomer in domestic politics, Martin Schulz introduced a more left-wing rhetoric to mobilise traditional social-democrats. The feeling of an unavoidable arrival of a new populist zeitgeist that followed the unprecedented turmoil at the ballots can even evaporate in a big part of Europe, at least. Moreover, the re-consolidation and the renewal of the joint European project can be once again seen as a realistic scenario. 

Dear Guests, dear Friends, you are warmly welcome at the workshop of the Hungarian Europe Society at the Central European University in Budapest. In this country, Hungarians do not simply face the potential risks of a populist take-over, but have experienced the practical consequences of the adventurism of a hard populist political regime. As a non-governmental organisation, we belong to the circle of like-minded civil groups which have received support from “abroad” in order to maintain their activities or have successfully applied for a grant to implement projects. This time it is the German Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit that has sponsored this workshop. Thank you for their support. The university, which kindly hosts our event, stands under increasing attacks by the government and its loyal media empire especially because of its founder, the American-Hungarian George Soros. He became the number one personalised enemy of the regime, who, according to the official propaganda, works in a business alliance with the bureaucrats in Brussels, the left and liberal Western elites, who prophesise political correctness, the bankers, and the smugglers who transport the migrants to the old continent and to the soil of an ethnically homogenous Hungarian nation. 

Viktor Orbán follows and re-invents an actually old-fashioned methodology. Today, illiberal/popular parties always declare that they are the only representatives of the so-called real, ordinary and decent people. They offer a political package, which often resonates with the political fears and social anxieties in a significant part of the electorate. In fact, populists do not listen and act following the political and economic priorities of their voters at all. They seduce people through politicizing and polarising identity issues, meanwhile they attempt to delegitimize their democratic and liberal political opponents developing conspiracy theories about them. Based on a majoritarian perception of democracy, populists permanently need to find new “enemies of the nation” in order to stigmatise them and to keep the level of continuous political tension at a high degree.

In the last couple of years, Orbánism has spread over in the Central European region. Together with his friend, the Polish nationalist leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Viktor Orbán declared a cultural counter-revolution inside the European Union last year. The countries of the Visegrad Four seemed to create a close alliance based on their regional identity and national sovereignties expressed in a strong resistance to Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. But the Visegrad Group has not proved to be a united front or the avant-garde of a new movement just as Orbán prophesised that 2017 would become the “Year of the riot” in Europe. And just a week ago, his political interests, personal strategic calculations and own moral flexibility, as well as the pressure from the European People’s Party made the Hungarian Prime Minister suddenly a Realpolitiker: he supported the re-election of Donald Tusk as President of the European Council in spite of the fact that Tusk was Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s arch rival in Poland. The creation of a Populist International had to be postponed. 

The challengers of the liberal democratic order have a much stronger voice everywhere in Europe than ever before. In Hungary and in its neighbourhood illiberal and populist political declarations dominate the public spheres. We need to demonstrate that there are fascinating alternative political, constitutional and economic ideas emerging inside the Central European region. Such concepts can seriously contribute to the new broader debate on the future of Europe as it is urged in the recent White Paper elaborated by the European Commission. We will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 2017. This workshop is a great opportunity to renew our way of thinking about important aspects of the European political and economic integration. I wish ourselves a fruitful discussion. 

Hungary Facing Trump

2016. november. 27., vasárnap | Hegedűs István

A cikk német változata megjelent a Welt Trends című folyóirat 2017 januári számában

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister welcomed the victory of Donald Trump to become the 45th president of the United States with joy and enthusiasm. „What a great news”, he, or his man (or woman) wrote on Facebook with poor English immediately after the election game was over. The surprising success of the Republican candidate strengthened Orbán’s belief that like-minded politicians would break-through all over the world closing the era of “liberal non-democracy”. This is a new formula for Orbán’s previous “illiberal democracy” phrase: this time his critical tone sounds even harder against the status quo and the political order maintained by traditional democratic political elites. 

Orbán is self-confident that the forthcoming Trump era will open a wide window of opportunity to leave behind his relative international isolation. The two politicians talked on the phone two weeks after the US presidential elections. “I told him that I have not been there [in Washington] for a long time as I was regarded as a ‘black sheep’,” Orbán said according to a pro-governmental Hungarian newspaper, Világgazdaság, and quoted by the British Independent. His government never had problems with the United States, Orbán argued; conflicts emerged only with the ruling Democratic Party. Since the new president has no ideological constraints and admires Hungary, the political change is good for us, he added.

Távlatos politizálás a félelem politikája helyett

2016. szeptember. 07., szerda | Hegedűs István

2016. szeptember 7-én megjelent Hegedűs István válasza Judy Dempsey kérdésére „Can the EU Survive Without the EU?” a Carnegie Europe blogján.

Yes, the EU can survive without Britain.

I disagree with arguments that it will be easier to reform the EU without the awkward Brits. Symbolically, the historic European project has suffered an unprecedented blow from the British vote to leave the union. Now, it will be much more difficult to energize the European elites to push the reset button for deeper political integration and a more supranational decisionmaking setup. Still, as a surprising number of demonstrations have shown in the UK since the shocking result of the June 23 referendum, pro-EU parties and politicians are not so lonely in their often uncertain efforts to keep the European construction working.

The multiple challenges facing the EU have strengthened populist forces all over the continent; many present not a cure but a clear danger to the European liberal democratic order. Some future political scenarios at the European and national levels may look shocking. Still, if democrats are able to change the general framing of public discourse from the politics of fear to the politics of vision, including a new narrative of a reinvented Europe, they might win in the long run. They have to find an emotional tone to supplement the rational arguments in favor of the EU cause.

Yet, politics is not just about smart communication techniques and a renewed language. The EU also needs self-confident democratic politicians in each member state.

A szürke zónában

2016. július. 05., kedd | Hegedűs István

Megjelent a WeltTrends című folyóirat 2016. júliusi számában Hegedűs István esszéje "Ungarn zwischen Demokratie und Diktatur" címmel.

Auf sicherem Kurs steuert Viktor Orbán Ungarn in die Autokratie. Dabei bedient sich der ungarische Ministerpräsident simpler ideologischer und populistischer Kniffe, die bei seiner Wählerschaft auf fruchtbaren Boden fallen. Die EU ist mit der Geschwindigkeit von Orbáns Reformen überfordert und agiert äußerst zögerlich. Erneut offenbaren sich dabei grundlegende Schwächen des europäischen Staatensystems.

Anlässlich des Gedenkmarsches für die Opfer der Anschläge auf die Redaktion von „Charlie Hebdo“ im Januar 2015 warnte Viktor Orbán vor „Wirtschaftsmigranten”, die Europas Sicherheit und sozialen Zusammenhalt gefährden. Ein Jahr später, ist der Satz: „Schaut her, wir haben es euch gesagt!” zum festen Bestandteil der ungarischen Regierungspropaganda geworden. In den regierungsnahen Medien Ungarns wird Orbán seit seiner Wiederwahl 2014 als der neue starke Mann Europas stilisiert. Dies wird im übrigen Europa nicht geteilt. Frans Timmermanns, Vizepräsident der Europäischen Kommission, erklärte im November 2015, „dass diejenigen, die glauben, dass sie Probleme mit dem Bau von Grenzzäunen lösen können, dieses nur tun können, weil andere gewillt sind, die Probleme zu lösen“.1 Das ungarische Parlament hingegen kritisiert Brüssel für seine Flüchtlingspolitik und wählt dabei eine stark antieuropäische Rhetorik: „Wie viele Tote brauchen wir, um Juncker zum Aufgeben zu bewegen?“, fragte etwa der Fraktionsvorsitzende von Fidesz Lajos Kósa. Eine Parlamentsresolution setzte erneut Migration mit Terrorismus in Verbindung. Während in den traditionellen westlichen Demokratien (bis auf Ausnahmen am rechten Rand) Terrorismus als der Konflikt zwischen Freiheit und fanatischem Fundamentalismus angesehen wird, sieht Orbán einen Kampf der (religiösen) Kulturen aufziehen.

Responses of the Visegrad 4 Countries to the Current European Migrant Crisis

2016. máj.. 30., hétfő | Kocsis Györgyi

First lessons of an expert survey

Györgyi Kocsis – Kata Nagy

Budapest, 30 May 2016, Workshop
Organised by the Hungarian Europe Society and supported by the CEU Center for European Neighborhood Studies and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit 

To supplement the thematic analytical work of our current research project the expert group of the HES in consultation with our partners compiled a comprehensive basic questionnaire in order to map out and indentify basic similarities and differences among Visegrad 4 countries in terms of their responses given to the current European migration crisis. The main fields we intended to cover included among others the decisive aspects of the relevant domestic political landscapes and the related historical background, the Visegrad Cooperation, the emerging civic engagement and of course the basic characteristics of the migrants arriving and passing through the V4 countries. 

As to the resources of the sought information, our main idea was to invite experts familiar with the issue suggested by our partners from the V4 countries to reply our questionnaire. Besides professionals of academic circles we wanted to rely also on the opinion of the well informed practitioners dealing with this issue from the administration, the media, civil society, etc. For this reason our questionnaire consists of two parts, the first part with general questions on the current political context framing the migration issue while the second part covers the more technical, legal and historical aspects. We have invited some 200 selected people to fill out our questionnaire, of whom 72 complied with 41 % of them completing both parts of the questionnaire. The composition of the respondents’ nationality looks quite balanced; 29 % of them being Polish, also 29 % Hungarian, 25 % Czech while 16 % of the respondents were Slovaks. Despite of the relatively high proportion of the answers we naturally do not consider our findings representative in any of the possible aspects due to the qualitative nature of our approach. At the same time however we are convinced that our method can provide a useful orientation point for the further elaboration of our common research project.

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Kicsit optimistábban

2016. máj.. 11., szerda | Hegedűs István

Hozzászólás Bajomi-Lázár Péter: „Semlegesség és elkötelezettség között: politikai újságírás Magyarországon” című tanulmányához

Hogyan viselkednek az újságírók egy félig autoriter rendszerben? Behódolnak, ellenállnak, kibekkelnek? Persze nincs olyan, hogy az újságírók (nincs olyan, hogy a média): vannak kormánypártiak, ellenzékiek, függetlenek – a kötödés mértéke pedig különböző, akárcsak az, hogy mire hajlandóak (és pontosan hol, illetve kinek dolgoznak); szóval gátlástalan karrieristák vagy tudatos öncenzúrázók - miközben vannak, akiknek politikai nézetrendszeréből nem következik egyetlen politikai erővel való teljes azonosulás (valamely párt, politikus szolgálata). Az általános polarizáció (és számos médiaháború) persze nem kedvezett Magyarországon az újságírói autonómiának – amikor harc van, nehéz kívülállónak maradni. A politikai párhuzamosság dominanciája a közéletben ráadásul - éles helyzetekben - még a távolságtartó megfigyelő elegáns viselkedésének erkölcsi megalapozottságát is kérdésessé teheti.

Nem kötelező a függetlenség (semlegesség) a szakmában. Ady Endre (az irodalmár értelmiségi) sem úgy írt (publicisztikát), hogy „meghallgatta mindkét felet”, hanem leírta a saját véleményét. A pártos sajtómunkások azonban manapság megint agitátorok és propagandisták lettek: Bayer Zsolt egyik interjújából kiderül, az adott médiastruktúrán belül teljesíti a penzumot, keresi kenyerét és sejteti, írhatna másképp és más véleményt - másfajta körülmények között. A szellemi áramlatok küzdelme izgalmas is lehetne (ez itt és most nem az, bár kiváló cikkek azért születnek), amennyiben erősek lennének világnézetileg a talapzatok, amelyeken az egyes irányzatok képviselői állnak. Míg a legjobb német lapokban az újságírói nyelvezet finomsága és az érvrendszer logikája magával ragadó, a magyar kormánypárti sajtó harcias retorikája egyszerre kelt félelmet és sugároz intellektuális unalmat.

Is there a New Impetus or a Political Paralysis regarding the protection of the EU’s Fundamental Values?

2015. augusztus. 15., szombat | Hegedűs Dániel

Hegedűs Dániel írása az "Illiberális demokráciák - mit tehet az Európai Unió abban az esetben, ha egyik tagállama visszatérően és szisztematikusan megsérti az európai értékeket és szabályokat?" című budapesti és brüsszeli workshopok kapcsán

A comparative analysis of policy proposals and adopted procedures from the Copenhagen Commission proposal to the Rule of Law Initiative of the European Commission


The paper puts the most important proposals and adopted procedures under the microscope, which were placed on the agenda since 2010 to enhance the level of protection of the European Union’s fundamental values and to complement the existing Article 7 procedure. While it strives to identify key dilemmas and variables based on which these policy tools can be evaluated as well as conducts a comparative European legal and political analysis, the paper finally argues that the quality and performance of the procedural tools has only secondary importance vis-á-vis the existence or non-existence of political will to scrutinize and sanction the violation of the fundamental values. Therefore one can observe rather a political paralysis than a new impetus in this field. Nevertheless the new Hungary Resolution of the European Parliament from June 10, 2015 can help to break the Council’s political and institutional deadlock around the Commission’s Rule of Law Initiative. However, not a Philosophers’ Stone like new procedure, but an activist approach both from the Commission and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as well as a political backing by the European Parliament are the crucial factors to the success; to enhance the Member States’ compliance with the EU’s fundamental Values. 

The European Union, as it is used to think about it, “is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”  However, if one takes a closer look both on the history of the integration as well as on the current state of affairs, one must admit that Dimitry Kochenov is much closer to the truth when he states: “the assumption that the EU is and will always be composed by democratic Members States respecting the rule of law and other Article 2 TEU values is unfounded.”  It is a fact hardly questionable that since its coming into force with the Treaty of Amsterdam all together four Member States were endangered by the deployment of the so called Article 7 procedure , the only mechanism provided by the EU law until 2014 to sanction Member States violating fundamental EU values seriously or in a systemic manner. Affected was Austria in 2000 during the so called “Haider-crisis” , Slovakia in the period of the first Fico-government  between 2006 and 2010, Romania during the 2012 constitutional crisis  and Hungary many times since 2010 as consequence of the different constitutional engineering and populist political measures of Viktor Orbán’s government undermining liberal constitutionalism in the country.  It is important and worth noting that non-compliance with EU values is not a phenomenon limited to new Member States or “New Democracies” at all. Perhaps the most flagrant case of serious breach of fundamental values conducted by an old Member States was how France treated the Romas migrated to the country with Romanian and Bulgarian citizenship and deprived the essence of the right to free movement, perhaps the most basic right of an EU citizen, from them. Commissioner Reding slightly compared these actions of the French authorities and the decision of Mr. Sarkozy to ethnic cleansings experienced last time during the Second World War in Europe.  The Commission deployed a straightforward “naming and shaming” communication campaign, threatened France with infringement procedures, but finally no further legal or political steps were undertaken. 

This paper does not have the intention to blur these cases and open a broad but fruitless discussion about the different structural resources and capabilities of old and new democracies or how differently they are able to face the breaches of fundamental values within their own constitutional systems and political cultures. However one thing is a fact. There exists a kind of “double standard” between old and new democracies as well as between small and big Member States in respect of what kind of sanctions they have to face if violating EU fundamental values at once. Although one can be quite sure that similar discrepancies will always exist, parallel to this one has to admit as well that such discrepancies can undermine the credibility and therefore the legitimacy of the EU actions aiming the compliance with fundamental values.             

Nevertheless, the main question which has to be addressed in Europe is whether the above mentioned cases of flagrant non-compliance have an individual character or whether a kind of general trend can be identified. Self-evidently it depends from this answer, whether the phenomenon Europe is actually facing shall be interpreted as a systemic threat to the current form of the European integration or just as individual challenges.

Rule of Law Compliance through Biting Intergovernmentalism: The Case for the Reinvention of Article 259 TFEU

2015. július. 24., péntek | Dimitry Kochenov

Dimitry Kochenov írása az "Illiberális demokráciák - mit tehet az Európai Unió abban az esetben, ha egyik tagállama visszatérően és szisztematikusan megsérti az európai értékeket és szabályokat?" című brüsszeli workshop kapcsán


This brief contribution makes the case for exploring the potential of Article 259 TFEU, allowing for direct actions brought by the Member States of the European Union, in the context of the enforcement of the Rule of Law in the Member States deviating from the principles of Article 2 TEU. While plentiful ways of possible enforcement of the Rule of Law have been proposed so far:  all the proposals overwhelmingly focus of the institutional action either within the context of the Union – including the actions by the existing institutions: Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission,  the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU (FRA) and the actions by the institutions to be created, such as the Copenhagen Commission  – or outside the EU context, such as the involvement of the Venice Commission for instance. Also reliance on the Member States’ courts, as well as the potential overstepping of the powers of the EU through an over-broad interpretation by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (CFR) has been advocated.

Yet, it is submitted that in all diversity of the proposed approaches, the scholars and institutions proposing them tend to underplay the potential role that the Member States of the European Union can and should play through direct actions in front of the ECJ, bringing their peers departing from the fundamental principles of Article 2 TEU to Court, an argument potentially bringing the largely ignored Article 259 TFEU to the fore. This argument is based on three fundamental starting points. 

Firstly, the potential of direct actions under Article 259 TFEU has been unjustly ignored by the commentators so far, while it offers a much less cumbersome way to attempt to enforce the acquis and values, allowing one (or more) Member State(s) to act directly in the context when all the other instruments depend of meeting relatively high institutional thresholds, often implying the need of reaching difficult political agreements, potentially putting the enforcement of the law (and values) in geopardy. The ‘letters of foreign ministers’ are a clear sign that some Member States tend to be more upset than others with the state of affairs with values’ enforcement in the EU – the contrary can also be true: some Member States, even while holding the Presidency of the EU, would not be disturbed by the disruptions of values. While the EU is based, inter alia, on the principle of subsidiarity and also requires blocking ultra vires action, Article 259 TFEU provides for obvious respect for both such considerations, as the Member States are empowered by the Treaty to seize the Court in a situation where the institutions are silent and the violation of the law is on-going.

Secondly, the idea of such direct actions is as appealing as it is usable in practice notwithstanding the history of a most restricted use of the relevant Treaty provision. This is due to the intricate connection between Article 259 TFEU and the Commission-initiated Article 258 TFEU, but has nothing to say about the potential effectiveness of Article 259 TFEU taken alone in the context of values’ enforcement. Even more, parallels of the use of direct state against state actions in the contexts of other legal systems in Europe testify to the appeal of the idea. The Council of Europe experience is particularly valuable in this respect: direct state actions can definitely be attractive tools in the context of values enforcement. 

Thirdly, this contribution demonstrates that the triggering of Article 259 TFEU should not be excessively difficult, legally speaking, in the context of growing inter-dependence and mutual reliance in the EU, where not only the acquis violations sensu stricto but also the violations of the fundamental values as expressed in Article 2 TEU have a clear potential to result in negative externalities for all the EU Member States. In this sense the argument relies of the idea that bringing systemic infringement actions in the area of values based on Article 2 TEU in cumulation with other instruments, such the duty of loyalty, should broaden the room for manœuvre enjoyed by the Union and supply a sound way of grounding infringement actions in the Treaties. Unlike the initial proposal concerning the deployment of systemic infringements actions made by Kim Lane Scheppele,  this contributions borrows the cumulation idea/methodology, only to apply it to the context of direct actions, where a Member State goes against another Member State. 

The paper will progress along the lines of the three points made above: arguing that direct actions by the Member States are particularly useful in the context of the current discussions in the area of values’ enforcement; that Article 259 TFEU is easy to deploy and that it is also perfectly possible in practice; and drawing inspiration from Kim Lane Scheppele’s proposal for systemic infringement actions made in the context of the utilization of Article 258 TFEU. The paper concludes by praising Article 259 TFEU for its hereto unused potential and by urging a speedy application of this provision in practice against a deviant Member State to set the tone to the more regular strict scrutiny of adherence to the values of Article 2 TEU by the Member States.

The Eurozone crisis and the EU’s “sins of illiberalism”

2015. június. 04., csütörtök | Othon Anastasakis

Othon Anastasakis írása az "Illiberális demokráciák - mit tehet az Európai Unió abban az esetben, ha egyik tagállama visszatérően és szisztematikusan megsérti az európai értékeket és szabályokat?" című budapesti workshop kapcsán

The EU is identified as a soft and normative power with a capacity to transform politically the countries which aspire to become its member states. The enlargement of Central and East European countries was considered the pinnacle of the EU’s transformative power; a process of EU induced political change of the post-communist states through the accession process, political conditionality and socialisation with democratic Europe. In 2004, eight countries from Central and Eastern Europe, having gone through a profound process of pre-accession transformation, were deemed ready for membership of the EU from, among others, a liberal democratic point of view. Hungary was among the frontrunners of this accession process, a country which managed its europeanisation more successfully than many other countries of the post- communist East. So why is Orban’s Hungary the most prominent case of illiberal EU member state with an admiration even for some of Putin’s tactics? Today, Hungary is considered the most dramatic democratic backsliding of the eastern enlargement group. What makes is more worrying is that the second most popular party is after Fidesz is the more undemocratic and far right Jobbik. In some respects, Hungarian politics are unique in the EU and such developments have to do with domestic peculiarities, including wrongdoings by the country’s political elites and a background of severe economic crisis and financial vulnerability. However, Hungary’s current political illiberalism is also a reflection of the EU’s own state of play, where euroscepticism is on the rise and far right parties in many countries of Western and Eastern Europe are contaminating the liberal discourse of the mainstream political parties. We observe in most countries of Europe a rise of nationalism, a decline of trust vis a vis EU institutions, a growing aversion towards immigration, and even in some circles a dislike towards the free movement of people within the EU itself. While some signs of euroscepticism and enlargement fatigue were evident even before the eurozone crisis which erupted in 2009, the latter contributed to the weakening of the European project from an economic and political point of view including the increase of illiberal voices. Hungary was the first country in Europe to experience the impact of the global financial crisis in 2008 with a serious drop of its GDP, a rise of protest politics, euroscepticism, a prominent far right and the mutation of the initially liberal Fidesz to an illiberal party in power. At the heart of the eurozone crisis lies Greece, a country whose democracy was drastically affected, through the collapse of its dominant two party system (New Democracy-PASOK) and with subsequent ground-breaking political ramifications and the rise of new political parties including the far right Golden Dawn.