Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party introduced legislation this week that, if enacted, would further weaken the Central European nation’s democracy.
From making it easier for soldiers to use force and enabling police to conduct searches without warrants to enlisting telecom companies in the collection of bulk phone data, the new laws seem more becoming of a police state than a European republic.
Given that Fidesz has an absolute majority in parliament, the bills are almost certain to pass, possibly as early as Friday.
The government claims the measures are needed to cope with a swelling migrant crisis that is seeing tens of thousands of asylum seekers pass through the country this year on their way to Germany and Scandinavia.
Mass immigration into the European Union is threatening to overwhelm governments and calling into question member states’ commitment to free travel within the bloc.
The German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, warned on Wednesday that unless other European countries agreed to take in more refugees, the lack of border controls within the Schengen Area would be unsustainable.
“In the long run, there won’t be any Schengen without Dublin,” he said, referring to the agreement signed in the Irish capital that requires refugees to claim asylum in the country they first arrive in. Some border states, including Greece and Italy, have been lax in enforcing the rule, allowing refugees to travel north and claim asylum there.
De Maizière reported that Germany expects 800,000 refugees will arrive in the country this year. “Germany cannot bear the strain if, as has been the case, around 40 percent of all asylum seekers to Europe come here,” he said.
Hungary on Friday denied reports that European regulators were blocking its nuclear deal with Russia. “These intergovernmental agreements were presented to the relevant EU authorities who, after due and careful survey of the material provided, put forward no objections,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Bloomberg reported that the Euratom Supply Agency had turned down Hungary’s plans to import nuclear fuel exclusively from Russia, a possible violation of the bloc’s competition rules.
Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Budapest on Tuesday. The visit was largely devoid of substance but made clear the Russian leader was not as isolated in Europe as most Western governments would have liked.
Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said his ambitions for the summit with Putin were modest. He assured European ambassadors that he would not try to mediate between Russia and the West over the standoff in Ukraine where the former supports a separatist uprising against the Western-backed administration in Kiev.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said on Tuesday his country will go ahead with the construction of its part of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline, despite objections from other European Union member states and the United States.
Orbán, an Hungarian nationalist, made his statement while visiting Serbia, a country close to Russia that will host part of the same pipeline.
Hungarians reelected the nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán in a parliamentary election on Sunday, early results showed, and turned out in greater numbers for the far-right Jobbik party.
While Orbán’s national conservative Fidesz party lost support compared to the last election, down from nearly 53 percent in 2010 to over 48 percent, it will still likely get a majority of the seats in parliament.
Jobbik, which got almost 17 percent support in 2010, stood at nearly 22 percent in a tally that was based on a count of about a quarter of the votes. The opposition socialist bloc also stood at 22 percent.
Mere weeks after Russia threw Ukraine a $15 billion lifeline to help its former satellite state shore up its finances, the country negotiated a $13.7 billion loan to Hungary to help pay for the construction of a nuclear power plant.
Despite recommendations from the European Commission to improve its business climate, Hungary’s government is unlikely to revise its nationalist economic policies. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said earlier this month, “I think what we are doing is successful.”
Orbán has reason to be optimistic. His country’s economy expanded .7 percent in the first three months of this year, but after it contracted through 2012. At the end of last year, Hungary’s economy was still almost 10 smaller than before the downturn in 2009.
The right-wing government responded to the crisis by shutting out foreign companies and investors and raising taxes on some industries to mend its budget shortfall.
Two of the three major American credit rating agencies downgraded Hungarian sovereign bonds to junk status this month, citing the “increasingly erratic” and “unorthodox” economic policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government as well as concerns over the independence of the country’s central bank.
The constitutional reforms enacted by Orbán’s right-wing administration in April of this year enabled the government to appoint members to the monetary council of the Hungarian National Bank which, in the view of the credit raters, significantly weakens the institution.
Moreover, a bill pending before parliament would allow the president to appoint the central bank’s deputy governors who are currently elected by the bank’s chairman. The bank’s monetary council, moreover, which sets interest rates, would be expanded by two members, presumably economists who share Orbán’s nationalistic economic vision. Read more “Hungary’s Economic Policy “Increasing Erratic””
The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday green lighted the entry of Bulgaria and Romania to the union’s border-free Schengen Area. Yet as many as ten Western European member states will keep their borders closed for Bulgarian and Romanian workers until 2014.
All countries that belong to the European Union are required to implement the Schengen Agreement which eliminated border patrols and custom checks between member states in 1999. Ireland and the United Kingdom are exempt as are the overseas territories of Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, although not part of the EU, do belong to the Schengen Area.
Bulgaria and Romania, which both joined the European Union in 2007, have met the necessary conditions for entry. Key to their ascension is their ability to protect Europe’s outer borders. The European Parliament will vote in plenary session on the matter next June after which government leaders are supposed to finalize the agreement unanimously. Read more “Bulgarian, Romanian Workers Still Not Welcome”