It is not just Hungary that the EU needs to tackle on democracy breaches

The European Commission is reportedly planning to harden its stance against member states who fail to adhere to democracy and the rule of the law.

The European Commission is reportedly planning to harden its stance towards member states who fail to adhere to democracy and the rule of the law.

This move, to be discussed by Commissioners at the end of August, would look at ways of ‘enforcing the observance of fundamental values set out in the EU treaty’, to be followed up by a conference in November ‘bringing together other EU bodies as well as policy makers, judges, lawyers and experts’, according the Financial Times.

The Commission is mulling measures, proposed by the European Parliament last week, which include a ‘Copenhagen Commission’ of independent experts to conduct constant monitoring of all EU states to guard against democratic backsliding.

The so-called Copenhagen criteria are standards on democracy and fundamental rights that all aspiring EU members must meet. Sanctions may include withholding EU funds.

That report was on Hungary, whose democratic breaches have made headlines in recent months. But the Commission has indicated it doesn’t want to be seen to be picking on any particular country.

Perhaps Italy should be next? Here, the heart of original EU, some of the key problems flagged in the rogue new members to the east are painfully evident. For some 20 years now, Italy’s democracy, press freedom, and the independence of the judiciary have been under constant attack, while corruption and organised crime have been flourishing.

The chief culprit in all of this is multi-billionaire Silvio Berlusconi. Although no longer prime minister, he’s still very much at large as leader of one of the largest parties, which is now in a ‘grand coalition’ with the centre-left Democratic Party.

Berlusconi, who has been PM three times since he ‘entered the field’ with his Forza Italia party 20 years ago, has been using office to tackle a seemingly endless stream of legal problems, and to protect his estimated £5.6 billion of private wealth that derives from his huge business interests.

He has also ensured – through control of private TV and political influence over state broadcaster RAI – that his version of events are the truth for millions of Italian households.

Berlusconi is really not the kind of character any country considered democratic would allow anywhere near public office. Over the past year he has received three criminal convictions, for tax fraud, sex with an underage prostitute and wiretapping.

And so Italy maintains its well earned popular reputation as Europe’s banana republic, a country where, according to Italian investigative journalist Marco Travaglio, one its richest citizens has secured no less than 37 ‘ad personam’ laws, where a top politician has relentlessly criticised judges for simply doing their job, and who has undermined, through his actions and words, respect for one of the state’s key functions – tax collection.

Yet confronted with the scandal of this out-of-control oligarch, spearheading ‘a fundamental rights and rule of law crisis’ in the heart of the EU, Brussels has chosen to remain silent, time and again.

Events last week demonstrated yet again just why it should speak up. In an incredible scene, the Italian parliament halted proceedings in protest at a decision by the supreme court aimed at preventing the media magnate from evading – as he has done on a number of occasions in the past – a four-year jail sentence on a technicality.

The real danger is that fundamental principle will be trumped by the desire for political ‘stability’ – today to satisfy the demands of the markets and the Troika for a grand coalition that can implement unpopular ‘reforms’ and austerity measures, just as 20 years ago Berlusconi’s self-interested entry into politics was accepted as the country sought to consolidate the public finances ahead of Italy’s entry into the Single Currency.

It is to be welcomed that EU institutions plan to get tough on member states that flout democratic norms and where illegality reigns. But if is to avoid accusations of double standards it needs to be applied to all, regardless of size and clout.

And when in the name of tackling the sovereign debt crisis the Commission and ECB are placing the burden of adjustment on the little man, doing something about one of Europe’s wealthiest and most arrogant men might even win back some of the EU’s lost credibility, both in Italy and elsewhere.

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17 Responses to “It is not just Hungary that the EU needs to tackle on democracy breaches”

  1. Stevan Harnad


    Yes, the EU’s Copenhagen criteria should be applied uniformly to all EU members (including, of course, Italy).

    The (only) good thing about the case of Hungary is that the abuses by its prime minister, Orban, and his party, Fidesz, have been progressively unfolding under the eyes of the EU and that (thanks to Rui Tavares and his committee) the EU has carefully flagged and documented them, warned Hungary, and is now about to monitor Hungary, with plans underway also to generalize these monitoring practices as well as penalties to all EU countries.

    Not only is the generalization good because it will now allow the EU to go after other abusers like Italy, but it is also exactly the right response to Orban’s attempt to defy the EU on the grounds that it is using double standards.

    Once applicable (and applied) to all, the EU’s standards for democracy will be uniform ones. A welcome and important step in the evolution of the EU, and of democracy.

  2. Joseph Williams

    I for one am very pleased that EU membership protects us from association with countries that don’t elect their second chamber, or who’s prime minister is chosen from a group of less than 700 from amongst themselves, or who’s head of state is hereditary, or which has suspended habeas corpus and allowed arbitrary detention for 42 days, or has used religious tension as an excuse to limit freedom of speech…oh. Oh no hang on….

  3. Sean Hanley

    A well made point – and, more generally, many West European states do not always compare that well with some newer democracies in CEE. Not just a story about Hungary and Italy, which are both to some extent outliers.

  4. Maryland Man

    You are so full of it. Did you know why Orban got elected in the first place? Have you heard the secretly recorded conversation of Gyurcsan the former prime minister? The reason Orban won the last election with over 60% because the voters got sick of the socialist lies and corruption. The only two guilty parties are here is the IMF for landing money and the deeply corrupt former hungarian government who toke the money and gave it to large corporations banks, ie swiss fank based loans, with EU protend not to notice……..The IMF and the EU had asked Orban two years ago to put extra taxes on the people and instead what he did, he had put the largest taxe rate ever on the banks!!!!!! That is his only crime!!! He is not in bed with the banks that is it!!!

  5. Stevan Harnad

    Thanks to “MM,” for this very familiar display of the governing party’s standard one-liners, every one of them misleading, and refuted countless times. Now LFF readers can judge for themselves. (The polite personal tone of the “MM” posting is also not atypical…)

  6. District 7 Democrat

    One can certainly not fault Mr Orban’s devotees for their persistence. However, they, as shown with good ole Mr Maryland Man’s outburst above, are presently struggling with the concept of a club (ie the EU) asking them to obey the rules of that club if they are to continue to get the funding that keeps Mr Orban and the Szolnok mafia in the money. If he doesn’t like the rules of the EU with regards normal democratic principles then he should leave it. What the EU should not do is to pander to dictatorships in the making merely for the concept of “EU Unity”.

  7. Selohesra

    How ironic that the EU lectures people on democracy

  8. sylvain

    All the criticising and denigration of Hungary
    is a campaign of the leftist parties of the Hungary and EU, and all their
    concern is not the democracy in Hungary, but their loss of power to the
    rightist parties, after 8 desatrous years of governing, which threw Hungary at
    the brink of financial and economic crumble? The only thing EU want is to bring
    back the servile left parties, in order to win back their influence on
    Hungary’s economy? Meanwhile the political representatives of the foreign banks
    and economical trusts, that took the money out from Hungary without paying any
    cent as taxes (which was a real robbery of Hungary) say the false concerns about
    democracy and constitution, Hungary’s majority of population show their
    preference to vote for the Fidesz government. I ask: what is more important: the
    preference of EU and IMF, of who to lead Hungary, or the Hungarian peoples
    preference? Because today more than a half of the population still sustain the Fidesz-government. If the preference of the European beaurocracy is more important
    then the preference of the people, that shows that EU behaves like a colonial
    state towards its colony. This is what EU wants to be? A state thats Eastern
    half is the colony of the Western halfs? An organisation that lies about
    democracy, wanting to show that it is concerned about the democracy in Hungary?
    I ask you where were Tavares and EU, when the Socialist-Liberal government,
    former to Fidesz in 2006 unleashed an abusive and aggressive terror, with
    mounted troops and rubber bullets on the peaceful citizens who protested
    against them, causing for many blindness and severe wounds? Why nobody was
    interested in this? Because the government was a government who did everithing
    what IMF and EU said, letting all banks to be taken by foreigners, and
    destroying all internal economy with bringing huge corporations in the country
    that ruined internal economy and brought many Hungarian businesses and
    agriculture to bancrupcy. Now that the Fidesz government finally put foreign
    banks and corporations who under the Socialist-Liberal government took their
    money won in Hungary without paying any taxes this is not loved by those
    Western European states that own the banks and corporations, and now they
    cannot say that: “we hate you because you put us to pay taxes like
    everybody else”, so they lie about democracy in Hungary. Hungary has not
    more undemocratic than other EU states. They attack Hungary of antisemitism and
    fascism, but Hungary is the only state who has Roma parlamenters in the EU, who
    organises every year Jewish festivals and commemoratives on Holocaust, and has
    two big museums about Holocaust. Furthermore every national minority in Hungary
    has the so called „önkormányzat” autogovernments, cultural and national
    autonomy, so they can organize themselfs, use their national symbols freely
    everywhere they want, even on public buildings. During the Orbán government
    nobody has been attacked, injuried because its origin. Meanwile in Slovakia the
    Benes laws still point at the fact that the 460 000 Hungarian minority of the
    state is a 2. class citizen, a “guilty nation” (is this not remainds
    you of the status of Jews in Hitler’s Germany?), and also Slovakia takes the
    citizenship of its Hungarian or not Hungarian citizens who became double
    citizens of other states, although the Slovakian constitution says that nobody
    should be stripped of his Slovakian citizenship, unless he consents to it.
    Those around 50 Hungarian citizens of Slovakia who were stripped of their
    Slovakian citizenship wanted to keep their Slovakian citizenship, but the state
    took it from them, with all their citizen rights (insurances, health care and
    addresses), although the Slovak constitution forbids this. When they went to
    the EU, the beaurocrats said that it is an internal affair of Slovakia, which
    can do anything to its citizens. The same things happen in Romania, where the
    state and its representatives harrass their 1,3 million Hungarian minority, by
    forbidding their national symbols, national (city or county) flags (although towns
    and counties with Romanian nationality have flags), doing day by day a verbal
    aggression in the media or political ways, denigrating the Hungarians as a
    nation or people. Every year in EU countries like Romania or Slovakia a number
    of people are beaten in the streets, or offended because of being Hungarians,
    which is mainly caused by the aggressive nationalist media and political
    campaign. Their Catholic and Protestant churches buildings, archives, etc.,
    which were took off by the Communist regime are still in the states hands,
    meanwhile the Romanian Orthodox church got back everything, furthermore even
    properties of the upper called Hungarian Churches. In Romania the government
    want to divide the Szekely counties of Harghita, Mures and Covasna with
    Hungarian majority among Romanian majority counties making impossible for them
    to decide for their peoples faith, to apply for EU funds, which is forbidden by
    EU laws to change the national compositions of regtions in detriment of a national
    minority. But the EU politicians, who are so concerned about the rights of the
    Kurds in Turkey or the Tibetians of China, or the Roma or Jewish communities of
    EU, never care about the harsh teratment of Hungarian minorities of Europe.
    Why? Why are they making this distinction between Hungarians and non
    Hungarians, not caring for the unjustice and attacks which occure every day
    against this nationality of the EU? The leftist-liberal parties and so called
    ecologists, attack a country unfairly, leaning on lies and half truths,
    meanwile letting a minority of nearly 2 000 000 people to be attacked,
    mistreated, aggressed, assimilated, saying that it is an internal affair of the
    country that attacks them. Is EU hating the Hungarian nation? Are they not
    enough humans to it? Is this a kind of racism or something, a kind of
    Indo-European racism?

  9. Stevan Harnad


    1. According to Hungarian polls, those who would vote for Fidesz *today* are just 25%, not the 53% that won the constitution-changing supermajority in 2010 (and even then, won it with no prior electoral mandate for — or even any prior announcement of the intention to — draft a new constitution).

    2. Rather than accusing all who support the concerns and recommendations of the EU and the Venice Commission of being anti-Hungarian leftists or venal industrialists (an odd alliance!), with the sole motive of unseating the present ruling party in Hungary, might it not make sense to consider the actual substance of the EU’s and Venice Commision’s expressed concerns and recommendations?

    3. Three of those substantive concerns are about whether there can even be fair elections in Hungary, now that the government has used its supermajority power to control the media, gerrymander electoral districts in its favor, and restrict advertising by opposition parties.

    4. But there are plenty of other substantive points too, regarding constitutionality, checks and balances, human rights. (Nothing to do with Hungarian utility reductions or taxes on foreign banks.)

    5. As noted, the EU will be applying the firthcoming democracy-protecting measures inspired by Hungary to all EU states and candidate states (hence also Slovakia and Rumania).

    6. The less said about the latent Irredentist agenda in the posting of “Sylvain,” the better.

    7. As to the real cause of the social unrest fomented during the prior government’s tenure, that is beyond the remit of the EU, but let’s say that there is a lot more to be said on that topic than the rather shrill and partisan spin put on it by “Sylvain.”

  10. sylvain

    1. Well, i do not know from when you take your informations mr. Steven, (Maybe from your mszp friends? Instead of comming to Hungary and see the facts?) but the last poll made by Századvég shows 49 % fidesz-kdnp, 24 % mszp, 13 % jobbik, 8 % együtt, 3 % lmp, 1 % dk, and 2 % others, sympathy. With the partition of the votes for those parties who will not enter in the parliament, being sub 5 %, fidesz will have more than 50 %. You can search for yourself.

    2. Well you should read also the Hungarian parliaments response to the Tavares-report, before any other comments that it is right or not. You just believe everything it says, because it is said by them. Interestingly, when the Roma representative, Farkas Flórián went to Tavares, and discussed with him the accusations on the so called fascism of the Hungarian govern, Tavares acknowledged that he made a mistake. this is how credible can the Tavares-report be. If you make a report and than recognize that parts of it, of which you had been “enlightened” are not true, what can we say about the whole of the report?

    3. This is not true. Why do not you learn a little hungarian and watch the television and read the media? And why did you were not concerned when before Fidesz took power, all the media was in the hands of the left-liberal parties? And why do not you watch Magyar-ATV, or read Népszabadság, for example to see, how “oppressed” is leftist-liberal media which attacks so sordid, and with so ugly words and expressions the existing power, or inviting
    politicians to speak about politics and about Fidesz, without inviting any Fidesz-member politician, having only Mszp or Együtt-politicians, who of course, together with the moderator, who should be “moderate” like its name says, attack in every way, and with every words the Fidesz-kdnp. If you watch for example Echo Tv or
    Hír Tv, considered on the side of the power, you every time will see all parties invited when they speak about politics. In your leftist-liberal parties televisions or radios, you will see and hear only those who are liberals and socialists, attacking the power without letting them to defend theirselfs. It is very easy, mr. Stevan to preach here without being able to control what you are saying, just believing everything the EU bureaucrats or some newspapers say…

    4. Of course not. But did you read what the American congressman Chris Smith wrote about Hungary? An American congressman: “Hungarian Fundamental Law is exemplary in guaranteeing civil and human rights”, ” reforms in Hungarian legislation respect values and rights just as well as any other European democracy does – in some cases to an even greater degree”.

    5. It is interesting, when the representatives of the Hungarian minorities called on EU to check these things which I wrote about, they every time had the same answer: the minorities questions are internal affair of the state to do what it wants to its minorities. It was many times, but every time the same result, and it head almost 10 years to say something after these states entered EU, but it wasnt interested even before these states entered EU, when they were
    monitorized, but never said to Romania or Slovakia anything about the Hungarian minority. This is why nothing happened, nothing changed ever since. Some USA congressmans had to intervene every time when Hungarians were mistreated, like Tom Lantos,
    when hundreds of Hungarians of Serbia were beaten in a very organized way day by day in the streets, or against the case of Malina Hedvig, or about the Hungarian churches possessions to be given back by the Romanian state. Where was the EU? Why only Hungary concerns them? Meanwhile EU speak about human rights issues, that they have no proof, and criticize Hungary. So they have no right to intervene in favor of Hungarian minorities, but they have right to say which should be the pensioning age for bankers in Hungary? Interestingly other minorities, not Hungarians concern EU bureaucrats, even minorities that belong to Turkey or China, and many other states. So how can EU criticize other states when it has no interest on a minority which is abused in its own borders? How can it show morality when it not respects the moral of its own? This is hypocrisy. If China or Turkey would have more thinking, they would reply on EU’s criticism asking rights to Hungarians, or India for Romas.

    6. Mr. Stevan, I do not know your nation, but if your nations parts, or any human being, or even animal, are maltrated somewhere, and you concern about their sufferings, that means that you are irredentist, and want to take the land? Maybe you are like this, having no hearth but only sordid interests to conquer. What can I say about you that you think like this? Are you so selfish, that the suffering of others does not move you? Maybe you are like this, but not everybody. Some people have also hearts… And of course, somebody from my nation suffer, maybe I will cry more, because it is from my nation, speaks my language, shares my culture. This is a human feeling mr. Stevan, without of having any selfish plan in it. This is what only some people can understand and not those who see people just some clients or people on which head to step in order to arise, who have no human feeling.

    7. You are right, that is many to say, and nobody said that Fidesz is without any mistake, as your beloved European parties and bureaucrats have their own faults too, mr. “Stevan”. Lets see, being the slaves of some international firmas and banks, who are frightened to loose their influence over Hungary’s economy and politics.

  11. David Lindsay

    We need the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

    Thus, we should no longer be subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, of neo-Nazis and neo-Fascists such as Marine Le Pen, of members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, of people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or of Dutch ultra-Calvinists who will not have women candidates.

    Jacques Cheminade, a supporter of Lyndon LaRouche, managed to collect the signatures of 500 civic dignitaries in order to make it onto the ballot for the last French Presidential Election. Next up, a Strasbourg seat. Isn’t the EU marvellous? Such a moderate, centrist cause, isn’t it?

    Ed Miliband should propose this legislation at the same time as he calls for a straight In-Out referendum on the day of next year’s European Elections, but to come into effect regardless of the outcome of that or any other referendum.

  12. Richard Gadsden

    Your map’s wrong. Croatia is a member now.

  13. Stevan Harnad



    2. (IPSOS Poll)

    3. I speak and read Hungarian.

    4. Chris Smith is a two-issue NJ congressman: ready to praise anyone who is against abortion and same-sex marriage.

    5. To repeat: Thanks to Fidesz’s egregious example, the EU will now develop uniform standards, procedures and sanctions to deal with departures from EU values in any EU countriy.

    6. All minorities need to be protected; that is one of the core EU values.

    7. No need to put my name in quotes: it is not a pseudonym like “Sylvain.”

    I should have added in my prior comment that the almost touchingly absurd notion of “indo-European racism” is alas an all-too-widespread a symptom of that longstanding persecution complex in that plurality of Hungarians that Fidesz (opportunistically) and Jobbik (sociopathically) accrue their respective 25% and 6% allegiance by opportunistically inciting and exploiting. The rest of Fidesz’s electoral success (if any) is thanks control of the media (not 100% but overwhelming), the courts (fortunately still far from 100%, thanks to what’s left of the decent and honest Hungarian judiciary) and Hungarians’ livelihoods (nationalizing pensions; ruining or illegalizing and then nationalizing businesses and real estate and then redistibuting it to Fidesz cronies).

    Yes, the human rights and economic future of the Hungarian people need external protection from the EU — protection against the relentless and increasingly unopposable dismantling of democracy by the incomparably more corrupt Fidesz supermajority that they credulously voted in in 2010, thinking that it would protect them from what now looks like the blessedly milder corruption of their former government.

  14. sylvain


    2. Well, knowing the fact of who is mr. Tavares’s cheef, a former ultra-leftist guy, who admits loving little children, I can imagine that a man, who enrols himself under the lead of such a man, can lie too about what he said earlier.

    5. To repeat, where was EU when other states made, or aproved older fascist laws against Hungarians? Why they were not concerned? Or state fascism is not so important like the alleged totalitarism of mr. Orban? But after that also EU still is quiet about the sufferings of the Hungarians! Nothing shows that they changed their stance about Hungarian minorities! Because if now they not saying anything about the Hungarian minority, when in the same time attack with lies Hungary, why should I believe you, that after that they will do something? I read also the amnesty International reports about Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. It contained many concerns about Romas and other issues, but never one word about the situation of the Hungarians, in a time when in Serbia did not pass a day without Hungarian people were beaten on the streets by Serbian gangs armed with sticks or sparys! This is why I wrote about racism. Because Hungarians to are a little different than the European nations. They speak another language than Indo-european. Ok, maybe you can say that this is not a racism, but having so many clues, I can very easily believe that this is a discrimination, based on race or language, because it is too obvious! Or why EU not said anything about the fact that before 2010, almost all the media was in the hands of the leftist parties? All what you say is something that I do not want to write here, because it is ugly.

    6. So why does not protects Hungarians?

    All what did you wrote here about the controll of the media, redistributing properties, etc., you have no proove, you just say the same thing what the liar leftist politicians and newspapers say. Lets ask you something. How about the fact that after the end of communism all the properties and money merged in the hands of the former communists, who changed their masters from Moskova to Brussels?

    Mr. Stevan, lets ask you something: why should i believe that so called Hungarian supermajority is worse than the EU supermajority, which does nothing else than put its hands on economy and bring all the winnings outside, without paying any taxes (with other words robbing the country), confiscating the energy and gas companies, to put huge costs on contributors, because a huge part of their profit has to be taken out, or putting their hands on the National Bank of Hungary, saying that it should not obey to the Hungarian Government, but to the European bank or the IMF? So why than is called “National”? Why is that good to us? Because it ends all domestic firmas and aggriculture, bringing the unlimited rule of the multi national corporations, and bringing foreign (french, English, Austrian, etc.) vegetables and fruits (although Hungary is rich in this, but the costs of these foreign vegetables being cheeper, because they use more chimical drugs in them to grow faster, causing at the end more cancer to the population), doing this to smash the domestic economy? This is what Hungarians need? You know, we had enough of the control! Were was your EU, when Ottomans, Austrians, Germans or Soviets occupied Hungary? We do not need any other control, because every control means the robbing of the country and people by the controler. Your Baroso or Reding (whos secret talks about how would she help to disscredit the Hungarian government if they win again in 2014, knows everybody) or Tavares work for international lobbies, banks, and companies. We do not need these people to say what we should do and who to obey! 500 years of continous occupation was enough. We do not want a new one, one even more dangerous than those before! Today the occupation is different than before: today they do not take the land with guns, but they control the country economically and politically, they throw the country in a so huge debt, that it cannot pay the debts back in hundreds of years, and under the economical, political and monetary control of other states, making the simple Hungarians sclaves. We do not need any other control, leave us alone, or want another 1848 or 1956 revolution? We can do one if you want… You can crush us, but than lets see, what will say the other rival powers about the EU? And do not forget something. Yes, all our revolutions were crushed, but after some years, less than 50 years, the powers that crushed us, crumbled themselfs too, and one of the main causes of this were our revolutions, that weakened their positions in such a way that ended them. Do not forget that Hungarians are a revolutionary nation…

  15. David Edenden

    The EU Commission is very confused.

    It has no business meddling politically in the affairs of Hungary or any other EU member. Presumably, the EU has a constitution and it is up the the judiciary to determine whether a government is acting within the bounds of the law.

  16. Josefa McJosei

    Great analysis.

  17. Josefa McJosei

    Amazing how careless and uninformed certain members of the EU organisations are. Instead of frequenting the ‘amusements’ of bars/bordellos they should go and study the facts in the Country.

    For general information communist/national socialists were the most venal rouge industrialists and often are even today

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