Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook

Viktor Orbán
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 16 (European Council)

For too long has the European Union tolerated the formation of a self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” in its midst. A recent European Court of Justice ruling underscores that Hungary not only breaches the rule of law, but violates the very rights and values on which the EU is founded.

The court ruled earlier this month that restrictions imposed on foreign universities — which forced the George Soros-funded Central European University to relocate from Budapest to Austria — were “incompatible” with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French member of the European Parliament and its rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, commented that the ruling “should send a warning to Viktor Orbán: that it’s time to step back from the brink of autocracy and reverse the Hungarian government’s undemocratic path.”

Orbán, prime minister since 2010, has come a long way. He started his political career as a liberal anticommunist and ended up the most right-wing, authoritarian government leader in the EU.

If the rest of the bloc is to rein him in, it must first understand how he has been able to gain, and keep, his power.

This is Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian playbook. Read more “Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook”

Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

I try to avoid Nazi-era comparisons, since they’re seldom appropriate, but Viktor Orbán isn’t making it easy. The only thing that could make his power grab in Hungary more like the Enabling Act of 1933 is if, like the Reichstag fire, COVID-19 really had been manufactured (in a Chinese lab funded by George Soros, if we are to believe Russia’s disinformation).

Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, Orbán has dissolved parliament and postponed all elections — indefinitely.

The Constitutional Court technically still functions, but it is packed with Orbán loyalists and provides no real oversight. For all intents and purposes, Orbán now rules alone. Read more “Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary”

Judicial Reforms Create Parallel Legal System in Poland

Mateusz Morawiecki
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech at the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, April 11, 2019 (KPRM/Adam Guz)

Poland’s ruling conservative party’s obsession with bending the legal system to its will is creating what the Financial Times calls a parallel legal system: one set of judges are loyal to Małgorzata Gersdorf’s still-independent Supreme Court while another obey the government-friendly Constitutional Tribunal. Read more “Judicial Reforms Create Parallel Legal System in Poland”

Poland Needs EU Support to Meet Climate Goals

Turów Power Station in Bogatynia, Poland, December 3, 2009
Turów Power Station in Bogatynia, Poland, December 3, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

Poland will not be able to meet the EU’s 2050 zero-emissions target without additional funds. In an interview with the Financial Times, the country’s chief energy advisor, Piotr Naimski, argues that the European Union needs to take its particular circumstances into account.

Poland’s extreme reliance on coal makes the goal to reduce net emissions to zero a tall order. Coal generates about 80 percent of Poland’s electricity. It also curbs its reliance on Russian energy, which is of geopolitical significance.

There is a political consideration as well. Mining unions are still strong in Poland. The industry has long provided well-paying jobs with a high degree of stability. Miners enjoy special retirement provisions. This makes them a powerful voting bloc. Read more “Poland Needs EU Support to Meet Climate Goals”

Three Seas Initiative Breathes New Life into Central Europe

Central and Eastern European leaders meet in Bucharest, Romania for the Three Seas Initiative summit, September 18
Central and Eastern European leaders meet in Bucharest, Romania for the Three Seas Initiative summit, September 18 (Three Seas Initiative)

The Financial Times reports that Central and Eastern European countries are putting flesh on the bones of the Three Seas Initiative, a forum dreamed up by Croatia and Poland to promote regional integration. Read more “Three Seas Initiative Breathes New Life into Central Europe”

Poland Launches Legal Challenge to Nord Stream 2

The skyline of Warsaw, Poland
The skyline of Warsaw, Poland (Unsplash/Alexey Topolyanskiy)

Poland’s antitrust watchdog has begun legal proceedings against Gazprom and the five European companies that are its partners in Nord Stream 2. The regulator alleges that completion of the Baltic Sea pipeline would inhibit competition.

EurActiv reports that the companies — Anglo-Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV, Switzerland’s Engie and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall — face fines of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover. Read more “Poland Launches Legal Challenge to Nord Stream 2”

Europe’s Blue-Red Culture War Comes to Czech Republic

Prague Czech Republic
View of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, from the Charles Bridge (Unsplash/Jay Dantinne)

Europe’s blue-red culture war has come to the Czech Republic, writes Jan Rovny at the London School of Economics’ EUROPP blog.

This weekend’s presidential election pitted the incumbent Miloš Zeman, “a self-styled representative of the common folk,” against the centrist, pro-European Jiří Drahoš.

The outcome — Zeman prevailed with 51 percent support — suggests that Czech politics have taken another step closer to Hungary and Poland.

This will revolve around a deepening, identity-infused contest between traditionalists touting their newfound patriotism and cosmopolitans seeking to maintain the country’s westward orientation.

Read more “Europe’s Blue-Red Culture War Comes to Czech Republic”

Nationalism May Be Down, But It’s Not Out

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States pose for photos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 16, 2017
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States pose for photos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 16, 2017 (Turkish Presidency)

Nationalism may be down, but it’s not out, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The nationalist insurgency is both growing and metamorphosing. It is not just eating away at relations between countries on issues such as free trade; it is also eroding the institutions and norms that prevail within countries.

With economies growing on both sides of the Atlantic, populists now draw on cultural grievances to undermine the stable, rules-based environment businesses crave. Read more “Nationalism May Be Down, But It’s Not Out”

Polish Ruling Party Forces Through Reforms to Defang Supreme Court

Frans Timmermans Beata Szydło
Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, listens as Prime Minister Beata Szydło of Poland answers a question from a reporter in Warsaw, May 24, 2016 (KPRM)

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party is forcing through judicial reforms that the Supreme Court’s president, Małgorzata Gesdorf, has said would “end” the Supreme Court and “break” the Constitution.

The changes are expected to be enacted next week after a parliamentary committee voted for the legislation on Thursday.

During a hearing, lawmakers from the ruling party rejected all amendments from the opposition, refused to hear independent legal counsel and ignored warnings from parliament’s own lawyers, who said the reforms might be unconstitutional.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the opposition Civic Platform, has called for demonstrations in the streets.

“This is no longer a creeping coup,” he told Polish television. “This coup begins to strike.” Read more “Polish Ruling Party Forces Through Reforms to Defang Supreme Court”