First Things First: Vote the Authoritarians Out

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)

Left-wing Americans weren’t happy when the Democratic Party nominated the center-left Joe Biden for the presidency, but, unlike in 2016, few sat out the election.

Nor there were major spoiler candidates on the right. Voting for Hillary Clinton was apparently too much to ask of five million Donald Trump skeptics in 2016, who voted for libertarian Gary Johnson or conservative Evan McMullin. They could have tipped the election in Clinton’s favor.

In 2020, Democrats wisely nominated the least divisive old white guy they could find and anti-Trumpers voted like the republic depended on it. Biden won fifteen million more votes than Clinton and flipped five states, handing him a comfortable Electoral College victory.

Hungarians and Israelis hoping to get rid of their “Trumps” must take note. Read more “First Things First: Vote the Authoritarians Out”

EU “Government Shutdown” Looms

Emmanuel Macron Pedro Sánchez Donald Tusk Angela Merkel
French president Emmanuel Macron, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, European Council president Donald Tusk and German chancellor Angela Merkel speak on the sidelines of a European Council summit in Brussels, June 20, 2019 (Elysée/Soazig de la Moissonniere)

The EU could face its own version of a government shutdown in January if Hungary and Poland veto the bloc’s seven-year budget and coronavirus recovery fund, worth a combined €1.8 trillion, at this week’s European Council.

The far-right governments of the two countries oppose the introduction of a rule-of-law conditionality for EU subsidies. Hungarian and Polish voters, and other European countries, favor the proposal.

If leaders don’t find a solution this Thursday and Friday, the European Parliament would not have time to ratify the spending plans before the new year. The council isn’t due to meet again until March. Read more “EU “Government Shutdown” Looms”

EU Must Hold Firm in Rule-of-Law Dispute with Hungary, Poland

Viktor Orbán Giuseppe Conte
Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Giuseppe Conte of Italy attend a European Council meeting in Brussels, February 21 (European Council)

Hungary and Poland are holding up approval of the EU’s seven-year budget and coronavirus recovery fund, worth a combined €1.8 trillion, vowing to jointly veto so long as the rest of the bloc insists on tying funds to compliance with the rule of law.

The countries’ far-right governments, which are already being probed by the EU for politicizing their judicial systems, claim they are defending national sovereignty from foreign interference.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, said he would not “subject Hungary to a situation where a simple majority imposes issues upon the Hungarian people they do not want.”

The problem with that statement: 25 of the EU’s 27 member states support the proposed rule-of-law conditionality, as do seven in ten Hungarians and Poles.

EU-wide support is as high as 77 percent, according to a poll commissioned by the European Parliament. Read more “EU Must Hold Firm in Rule-of-Law Dispute with Hungary, Poland”

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 is not only in beach of 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 Vienna — 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”

Loss of Control: What Moderates Get Wrong About Migration

Red Cross workers provide first aid to migrants in Hungary, September 4, 2015
Red Cross workers provide first aid to migrants in Hungary, September 4, 2015 (IFRC/Stephen Ryan)

Immigration into Europe and the United States is down, yet the far right continues to monopolize the debate.

The EU faced a one-time surge in asylum applications from Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians in 2015-16 as well as four years of high numbers of mostly African migrants (PDF) trying to reach Italy by boat. The numbers are down, yet the far-right League is the most popular party in Italy.

In the United States, asylum applications from Central American countries plagued by violence are up, but Mexican immigration is down. Donald Trump nevertheless won the 2016 election on a virulently anti-immigrant platform.

Fake news and media echo chambers are part of the problem. It is difficult to expose voters to the facts when they can find “alternative facts” just a click away. But this does not fully explain the appeal of the populist message. The bigger problem is that moderates do not have a coherent migration policy to fix systems that are obviously broken. As a result, they do not have a strong story to tell. Read more “Loss of Control: What Moderates Get Wrong About Migration”

Don’t Call Them Illiberal Democrats

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Michael Meyer-Resende of Democracy Reporting International argues for Carnegie Europe that applying the term “illiberal democracy” or “majoritarianism” to the politics of Hungary and Poland is a misnomer. The ruling parties there are not undermining democracy — by taking control of the (state) media, stacking the courts and rewriting election laws — for the sake of the majority, but rather to maintain their own power. Read more “Don’t Call Them Illiberal Democrats”

Orbán’s Rebellion, Liberal Democracy and Trump’s War in Syria

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is likely to win reelection on Sunday. The Washington Post has a good story about the rebellion the EU faces in Central Europe. For more on the political trends Orbán embodies, read:

  • Jan-Werner Müller: We are doing Orbán a great favor by accepting him as any kind of democrat. It is democracy itself — and not just liberalism — that is under attack in his country.
  • Tom Nuttall: Orbán’s depiction of himself as an illiberal democrat is largely window-dressing. Were his pollsters to discover that voters were no longer animated by immigration, he would manufacture a different foe. Orbán’s ideologues assemble theoretical scaffolding to justify the channelling of state resources to favored businessmen under the rubric of “economic patriotism”. The EU harbors not an illiberal democracy, but a semi-autocratic kleptocracy in which loyalty offers the quickest route to riches.
  • Dani Rodrik: Liberal democracy is being undermined by a tendency to emphasize “liberal” at the expense of “democracy.” The European Union represents the apogee of this tendency: the delegation of policy to technocratic bodies.
  • Philip Stephens: The West misread the collapse of Soviet communism. It was not, after all, the end of history. Happy assumptions about the permanent hegemony of laissez-faire capitalism and the historical inevitability of liberal democracy were rooted in a hubris that invited nemesis. For all that, the end of the Cold War did produce a big idea. Now, as we are daily reminded by Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it is being swapped for a very bad idea. Read more “Orbán’s Rebellion, Liberal Democracy and Trump’s War in Syria”

EU Threatens Sanctions Against Central European States

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán enters the European Parliament in Brussels for a debate, April 26
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán enters the European Parliament in Brussels for a debate, April 26 (European Parliament)

The European Union is clamping down on its recalcitrant Central European member states.

The European Commission has opened what is called an infringement procedure against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for failing to take in their share of refugees.

This comes on the heels of several probes into Hungary’s and Poland’s right-wing governments. Read more “EU Threatens Sanctions Against Central European States”

Recalcitrant Hungary and Poland Exhaust Europe’s Patience

President Jean-Claude Juncker and other members of the European Commission listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 14, 2016
President Jean-Claude Juncker and other members of the European Commission listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 14, 2016 (European Parliament)

The European Parliament has opened an investigation into the state of democracy and rule of law in Hungary, which is ruled by the self-described illiberal democrat Viktor Orbán.

The resolution, introduced by liberal and left-wing groups, passed on Wednesday with the support of 68 members of the conservative European People’s Party, to which Orbán’s Fidesz belongs.

The mainstream right has long shielded Budapest from scrutiny, despite Orbán’s years of attacks on the courts, the central bank and the media, the removal of checks on his parliamentary majority and his pursuing of economic and migration policies that defy the European mainstream. Read more “Recalcitrant Hungary and Poland Exhaust Europe’s Patience”