Hungary’s Democratic Backsliding as a Risk to EU Normative Energy


With the top of the Chilly Conflict and the autumn of Communism in Europe, many Central and Japanese European international locations underwent a radical political and financial reconfiguration. Many international locations pushed to remodel within the hope of buying membership to the European Union (EU) to solidify and consolidate these adjustments. Amongst the listing of candidates, Hungary appeared as a powerful contender and was accepted into the Union in 2004 (Toomey, 2015). The factors for accession had been that the international locations had been secure, liberal democracies that acknowledged and espoused the values and norms related to membership into the Union. Lately, nevertheless, the EU has skilled an increase in excessive political events, which have allowed for anti-democratic forces to develop in particular person Member States. This democratic backsliding is felt most intently in Hungary underneath the management of Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz celebration. They’ve steered the nation right into a course many students have dubbed “Aggressive Authoritarianism.” This exemplifies a hybrid type of governance during which the authority stays outwardly loyal to democratic practices however by way of intolerant mechanisms, like arresting opponents and shutting down impartial media (Levitski, 2020). This poses a big risk to the normative energy of the EU and its political leverage as a democratic polity. Normative energy and attraction require constant ‘exportable’ values (Manners, 2009). And not using a clear political narrative that binds the EU Member States collectively, its efforts and credibility each internally and externally could also be undermined. Notably within the case of Hungary, its overt departure from the democratic ideas required of Member States places into query the authority of the EU’s normative energy and legitimacy.

EU Democratic Ideas

From its inception, the EU has all the time remained dedicated to democracy. Though initially based as primarily an financial union, it will definitely made its political stance official when setting the factors for membership. Within the 1993 Copenhagen Standards, it explicitly acknowledged that qualifying candidates should have “secure establishments guaranteeing democracy, the rule of legislation, human rights and respect for and safety of minorities” (European Fee). The EU is dedicated to variety and doesn’t impose a common democratic mannequin, but it surely does maintain Member States accountable to EU treaties. These require international locations to uphold sure collective values, together with “democracy, pluralism and the rule of legislation” (Kelemen, 2017). Additionally they created a mechanism to sanction Member States that break free and fail to protect the EU’s democratic values of their nation (TEU, Article 7). Not too long ago, there was compelling proof of ‘democratic backsliding’ in international locations like Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovenia, amongst others that look like reneging on the democratic duties articulated in EU treaties. In 2018 the EU tried to sanction Hungary for its blatant breaches of EU established values. Though its efforts had been unsuccessful, it serves to spotlight the position that the EU has in defending democracy and the rule of legislation amongst its Member States (Kelemen, 2017).

Hungary’s Democratic Backsliding   

Regardless of the EU’s official dedication to democracy, it has allowed for the emergence of many ‘Aggressive Authoritarian’ or ‘Intolerant Democracies’ to retain energy and exist within the Union. Viktor Orbán and the governing Fidesz celebration have, for the previous 9 years, tried to line up the Hungarian govt, legislative and judicial energy to consolidate their management over the state. In doing so, they’ve managed to undermine many liberal establishments, like checks and balances, by concentrating energy within the govt department and unilaterally altering the Structure. Additionally they took over possession of main information businesses to regulate the data broadcasted to the Hungarian public (Kreko et al., 2018). Hungary’s Fidesz celebration has made important adjustments to the system to maintain itself in energy. The federal government underneath Orbán has handed legal guidelines permitting for the appointment of judges on the constitutional Court docket with out approval from the opposition. Subsequently, it packed the Court docket with Fidesz loyalists by increasing the variety of judges on the Constitutional Court docket. In response to continued resistance by the Court docket to a lot of his ordinances, Orbán amended the Structure to curtail the Court docket’s energy (Kelemen & Orenstein, 2019).

The brand new Structure granted constitutional standing to a number of of the legal guidelines the Court docket had overturned and gave extra important management over the judiciary to the top of the Nationwide Judicial Workplace, a authorities appointee. These strikes had been adopted by a raft of different adjustments equivalent to an overhaul of the electoral system to favor Fidesz and a reorganization of quite a few public our bodies, which could function checks on the federal government (Andrzej, 2016). Orbán additionally goals to polarize and divide the nation by spreading faulty info, like false immigration statistics, to rally voters, whereas reworking establishments to suit his celebration’s wants (Zerofsky, 2020). In gentle of all these obvious breaches of energy, the query of Hungary’s democratic legitimacy and the credibility of their procedural discourse has turn into more and more contested lately. 

Hungary displays a worldwide rollback of liberalism throughout Central and Japanese Europe. Students have cautioned in opposition to the specter of populism and the implications of permitting autocratic regimes like Hungary to take root. With excessive events now competing on ethical grounds centered round id moderately than economics, the EU faces an ‘existential’ problem as a supranational establishment meant to unify numerous Member States (Mudde, 2017). As a result of the EU already has present and seemingly rising ‘Eurosceptic’ challenges internally, such apparent mismatches regarding core EU values solely dangers additional highlighting the present divisions. For example, students like Daniel Kelemen (2017) referred to those autocratic insurgencies as “Europe’s Different Democratic Deficit” and Meunier and Vachudova (2018) warning that “ideological convergence round liberal values” can now not be taken without any consideration as a pure byproduct of membership to liberal establishments, which may have important penalties for the EU’s place as a worldwide energy.

The erosion of democracy in Hungary has reached comparatively excessive heights and has been repeatedly rebuked by worldwide organizations, students, and media retailers alike. The European Parliament in 2018 invoked the TEU’s Article 7 on Hungary and referred to as on the Council of the EU to behave in opposition to the nation as a result of they understand it to pose a “systemic risk to the Union’s founding values… that are enshrined in EU Treaty Article 2 and mirrored within the EU Constitution of Basic Rights [which] embody respect for democracy, equality, the rule of legislation and human rights” (European Parliament 2018). Hungary additionally turned the primary EU Member State to ever be demoted in standing to solely ‘partly free’ by Freedom Home. (Freedom Home, 2019) The query then turns into, what is going to the existence of intolerant democracies, in a Union dedicated to democratic core values, imply for its normative energy?

Normative Energy

The idea of normative energy can take form in two distinct methods; one is ideational and the opposite materials. The European Union has developed each varieties to various levels. For example, EU Member States developed their materials energy by growing a big capability to coordinate collectively within the realm of overseas and safety coverage by way of the EU’s Frequent International and Safety Coverage (CFSP) and Frequent Safety and Protection Coverage (CSDP) (Bickerton, 2010).  Nevertheless, the EU’s main supply of energy is ideational. Richard Rosecrance factors out that “Europe’s attainment is normative moderately than empirical…It’s maybe a paradox to notice that the continent which as soon as dominated the world by way of the bodily impositions of imperialism is now coming to set world requirements in normative phrases.” Following Rosecrance’s argument, Ian Manners seeks to refocus the controversy of energy within the EU not in civilian and navy phrases however moderately by way of its ideational impression. The notion of a ‘Normative Energy Europe’ has its roots within the energy of concepts, or idée pressure as a manner of conceptualizing the EU’s worldwide id (Manners, 2002). In line with Manners, it’s the shared ideas and beliefs that members should abide by within the EU that permits it to guide by instance.

These values are enshrined within the acquis communautaire (the EU’s physique of legislation) and stipulated within the 1993 Copenhagen Standards and the founding treaties which assert that “in worldwide relations, the Union needs to be guided by and would search to unfold the values upon which it’s based – democracy, human rights and the rule of legislation” (Treaty of Lisbon, article 21). Additionally they have 4 minor norms: social solidarity, anti-discrimination, sustainable growth, and good governance. The European Council additionally determined on the Cologne summit in 1999 that they need to draft a human rights constitution as a result of “safety of elementary rights is a founding precept of the Union and an indispensable prerequisite for her legitimacy” (European Parliament). The moral requirements required of every of its Member States within the basic ideas of neighborhood legislation signify the founding and legislative foundation of the EU to function a desired side of its worldwide id. Moreover, when buying and selling with third international locations, the EU specifies conditionality clauses that bind the nation to observe moral human rights, as stipulated within the European Conference on Human Rights (Meissner & McKenzie, 2019).  Subsequently, it’s clear that the EU depends closely on its ideational energy in addition to materials energy.

Clearly, the EU has made nice strides to formally set up itself as a polity ruled by shared ideas and values. To guage the sustainability of the EU’s normative energy, Manners conceptualized a criterion of research that hyperlinks its professed values with the corresponding actions, adopted by its desired impression and assess its efficiency.  The normative energy of its values is seen as reputable primarily by way of the ideas it’s pushing and endorsing. The ethics of the ideas being promoted typically come from its consistency with beforehand established conventions, treaties, and agreements, notably in the event that they align with elementary tenets of the United Nations (UN). The second a part of its legitimacy comes from the ‘extent to which differing ideas might be seen as sound and non-contradictory… and practices to advertise them are uniform each inside and with out the marketing entity, and are utilized uniformly” (Manners, 2009). The actions needs to be perceived as persuasive within the efforts to advertise the ideas. For normative justification to be convincing, it should “contain persuasion, argumentation, and the conferral of status or disgrace” (Manners, 2009). Within the case of the EU, its normative energy is partially derived from its structural capability, equivalent to its accession standards and Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union which permits for suspending a Member States voting rights. Lastly, its impression have to be socializing, i.e., ideational energy requires ‘normative justification,’ which is comprehensible to others and is ‘sustainable’ into future generations.

In Hungary’s case, we’ll take a look at it from two views. First by analyzing the way it undermines the normative energy of the EU from contained in the European Union by performing outdoors the purview of its democratic ideas, notably by taking a look at its stance on immigration and its efficiency through the refugee disaster. Secondly, tracing Hungary’s growth from when it was admitted to the EU in 2004 as a part of the Japanese Enlargement Undertaking. For the reason that Japanese enlargement was devised as a mechanism to push the EU’s normative energy and consolidate democracy, current occasions in Hungary underscore the essential limitations of the EU’s supranational neighborhood in regulating political troubles inside the Union.

Hungary and the Refugee Disaster

The Refugee disaster that hit Europe posed a substantial risk to the EU. The wave of refugees that entered Europe in 2015 catalyzed right-wing radical populist events. In Hungary, the erosion of democracy and nativist rhetoric predated the disaster in 2015 however was exploited as a way to stimulate help for the Fidesz regime. Viktor Orbán manipulated the general public’s worry of refugees and migrants to bolster his help (Anna Grzymala-Busse, 2019). The refugee disaster reveals a number of the most obvious mismatches between the EU and Hungary. 

The EU made quite a few requests for member nations to alleviate Italy and Greece of their massive numbers of refugees coming from Syria, North Africa, or different components of the Center East. In September 2015, EU nations voted to herald 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, with Germany and France taking within the biggest variety of individuals. Collectively, 9 Central and Japanese European international locations had been requested to shelter a complete of 15,000 refugees. Though 4 nations, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, voted in opposition to the settlement, they had been nonetheless obliged to adjust to the bulk decree.

Orbán instantly started a collection of campaigns to stop the refugees from coming into the nation. First, he constructed a fence alongside Hungary’s southern border. This was accompanied by a number of “Info Campaigns” to undermine the EU. In 2017, the Hungarian authorities spent about US$250 million to construct billboards, leaflets, tv advertisements, and mass mailings to undermine and criticize the EU for forcing them to confess refugees (Krekó & Enyedi, 2018). Maybe probably the most dramatic transfer they took was altering the structure, making it unlawful to just accept refugees in Hungary and making it against the law to help a refugee.

In retaliation, the European Union launched a proper “infringement process” in opposition to Hungary, and two different member nations—the Czech Republic, and Poland—for failing to adjust to the 2015 settlement to harbor asylum-seekers. The European Govt took the matter to the European Court docket of Justice for adjudication. The Court docket lately launched its choice claiming Hungary to be in breach of European Union legislation by not taking in refugees and can be topic to monetary penalties (Sandford, 2020).

The mismatch between the EU’s expectations of its Member States and the insurance policies enacted by a few of these States poses a elementary problem to the values of the EU. It reveals shortcomings within the insurance policies of the EU to implement its normative energy. Börzel and Risse (2018) argue that right-wing political events within the varied Member States efficiently mobilized nativist sentiment and anti-immigrant stances by politicizing the asylum and migration matter. It’s this politicization that prevented the profitable formulation of a European response to the refugee flows (Börzel and Risse, 2018:). As an alternative, what emerged was a normative narrative typically at odds with insurance policies in place. 

A part of the normative energy of the EU is established by way of its procedural diffusion to 3rd events. This may be achieved within the case of the EU by way of, as an example, legally binding cooperation agreements, buying and selling conditionality clauses, and the enlargement of the EU itself (Manners, 2002). The EU supplied admittance into the Union to Central and Japanese European International locations (CEE) on the situation that they suppress nationalist insurance policies and promote democracy (Vachudova, 2006) Nevertheless, The EU additionally importantly sought to assist with the consolidation of those new liberal democratic programs in these international locations to “forestall any future backsliding on democratic reforms, and a reversion to some type of authoritarian rule” (Toomey, 2015). Now that these international locations have been admitted into the Union, the EU faces important challenges with the rise of the far-right autocratic leaders, notably in Hungary and Poland, as a result of it has insufficient mechanisms to sanction States for infringing EU Treaties or Legal guidelines.

Viktor Orbán’s undemocratic adjustments in Hungary are a blatant try and safe his grip on energy following preliminary electoral defeats, which made him understand the fragility of his attraction to the voters. He was elected to a seat in Parliament in 1990, which he retained till 1993. In 1998 he gained the nationwide election with 42% of the vote and have become Prime Minister by forming a coalition with two different events (Martens, 2009). As soon as in workplace, he instantly started making reforms that drew a lot opposition. Regardless of these adjustments, Fidesz misplaced its majority within the 2002 election. This expertise anchored the Fidesz’s shift from liberalism to nationalism. All through the 2000s, the celebration garnered a lot of its recognition by espousing xenophobic and exclusionary insurance policies and rhetoric. When the celebration gained once more in 2012, its recognition largely stemmed from its Christian values and id politics (Economist, 2019). All through Orbán’s time in workplace, he has been an open supporter of ‘intolerant democracies.’ He has been aggressively dismantling the nation’s democratic establishments, suppressing the liberty of the press, undermining the training system, and proscribing the ability of the judiciary. These anti-democratic developments have hardly gone unnoticed by the worldwide neighborhood and the worldwide media. There have been a number of requires better motion on the a part of the EU to comprise and act on these developments, however the EU has not efficiently managed to curb these autocratic insurgencies. Judith Sargentini, the Dutch Greens lawmaker, steered a proposal, which garnered an amazing majority within the EU Parliament, to set off Article 7 in opposition to Hungary condemned “Viktor Orbán’s authorities [for} leading the charge against European values by silencing independent media, replacing critical judges, and putting academia on a leash” (Sargentini reported in BBC 2018). Despite the support for triggering Article 7, the motion itself failed when it came up for a vote. The reality is that the EU’s inaction can in part be accounted for by the lack of tools at its disposal to control the situation.

EU’s Response to Hungary’s Democratic backsliding

The bloc cannot expel a member from the Union once they have been accepted. The most it can do is suspend its voting rights under Article 7 of the Treaty of Lisbon if the country is in “serious and persistent breach” of the EU’s fundamental values (TEU, Article 7). However, Article 7 can only be enacted if the EU Council members unanimously agree.  The EU runs into problems with unanimous voting because, as mentioned earlier, the autocratic regimes are far from contained exclusively in Hungary. Poland, under the Law and Justice Party, reflects many of the same anti-democratic developments that have occurred in Hungary under the Fidesz regime. Poland began implementing undemocratic reforms, undermining the judiciary and the public media, as soon as it was elected. The party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has dismissed the massive protests within the country and the criticism by the EU of their actions (Kelemen & Orenstein, 2019). Article 7 of the TEU will likely never be successful in the immediate future because Poland and Hungary continue to mutually shield each other from any possible EU punitive measure. We saw this relationship play out on two different occasions. An Article 7 procedure was initiated by the European Commission against Poland on the 20th of December 2017 and less than a year later on the 12th of September 2018 against Hungary. On both occasions, the motions were defeated because both countries shielded the other by voting against the proposal.

The other options at the EU’s disposal may also prove ineffective. The bloc could limit the amount of funding allocated to Hungary in the next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which is currently under negotiation. In theory, this would be a powerful option because Hungary’s gross domestic product (GDP) is heavily dependent on money from the European Union. Between 2009 and 2016, such funding constituted nearly 4 percent of Hungarian G.D.P. per year (Economist, 2019). However, the European Commission does not have the necessary powers to withhold funding unilaterally. It requires the support of the EU heads of state and the European Parliament. The MFF is a long-term spending plan, allowing the EU to plan and invest in long-term projects. It is proposed by the European Commission and adopted by the Council (requiring the unanimous approval of every Member State) with the assent of the European Parliament (European Council). Because a unanimous vote is necessary for the MFF to go through, the entire seven-year plan can be derailed by the objection of a single Member State (Lilkov through LSE, 2018). This requirement makes it very unlikely that any budget passed would include limits on the funding given to Hungary.

In 2018 the European Commission presented a proposal for the creation of a Regulation to protect the Union’s budget “in cases of generalized deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States” (European Commission, 2018). The Regulation would create a mechanism that would block access to EU funds. In 2019 three hundred and ninety-seven members of Parliament voted in favor of a report on the proposal (Bayer, 2019). However, it still faces stiff opposition and has not yet been passed. At the moment, the Commission can only make financial corrections for administrative management of EU funding. Still, as it stands, there is no mechanism that could suspend or reduce payments to countries found in breach of fundamental EU regulations and values (Financial Times, 2019). The Regulation has come under considerable scrutiny because many contend this will further highlight the East-West divide.  Because of a lack of mechanisms to sanction Member States for ignoring or defying the rule of law, such as illiberal democracies, one rogue country can derail the EU’s objective substantially.

A last option for the EU is to begin infringement proceedings against Hungary at the European Court of Justice for its democratic violations. The ECJ, if it finds Hungary to be guilty, can impose financial penalties. In the past, fines have amounted to roughly 100,000 euros (Sehran through the Atlantic, 2020). The major problem is that the system is inefficient and takes a long time. Although it can have some substantive effect, by the time the decrees are released, it may too late.

It becomes evident that the EU does not have the necessary mechanisms to ensure that the liberal principles required to become a member state are sustainable into future generations, a criterion that Manner’s says is necessary for normative power. The current democratic crises in Hungary underscores the lack of accountability for democratic norms in the EU. This can be explained by the EU’s lack of procedural protocols to enforce its normative power within the Union, which inevitably impedes its ability to keep Member States in line with the accession norms and values.

The refugee crisis exemplifies the lack of normative power the EU has in steering the Hungarian government to act in conjunction with the EU. Looking back at Manners’ criterion for normative power, The EU suffers in terms of its legitimacy because it cannot offer “coherent principles … that can be [promoted] in a sound and non-contradictory manner” (Manners, 2008).  As seen by the accession interval of 1998 to 2004, the carrot of membership into the EU was a enough incentive to form and alter the political climates of Hungary within the brief time period, which gave it the chance to realize membership into the EU in 2004. And not using a mechanism to expel members from the Union, and the necessity for unanimous voting within the Council to invoke Article 7, the EU finds itself at political crossroads. It has established itself as a Union bounded by sure key ideas enumerated in treaties and the acquis communautaire; nevertheless, it has international locations in its Union which can be disturbingly at odds with its professed ideas. With few instruments to mobilize change and punish deviation from EU norms, coupled with an ever-growing downside of democratic backsliding notably in CEE international locations, the EU dangers exposing its lack of political leverage with out the carrot of membership to advertise its political targets (Jenne & Mudde, 2012). 


Clearly, there’s a important mismatch between Hungary’s authorities and the core democratic values of the EU. This poses a substantial risk to the EU’s normative energy as a result of it doesn’t seem constant by way of its worldwide insurance policies, as seen by way of the refugee disaster. Moreover, the EU lacks the structural mechanisms essential to sanction the Hungarian authorities and is due to this fact caught in a gridlock with international locations at odds with its qualifying democratic ideas however only a few choices to vary it.

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Written at: Paris Institute of Political Research (SciencesPo)
Written for: Annabelle Lever
Date written: 05/2019

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