Ideas Authoritarian drift in Hungary

Europe must find the antidote for Viktor Orbán’s latest power grab

Led by our partners Civico Europa, political and cultural figures from across the continent call on the institutions and citizens of the EU to take action against the Hungarian Prime Minister's latest power grab, enacted on the pretext of combating the coronavirus epidemic.

Published on 20 April 2020 at 13:02
‘…Ach you do what you can…against Coronavirus…‘

We Europeans need to fight two viruses, simultaneously and equally vehemently: Covid-19, attacking our bodies, and yet another infection targeting our ideals and democracies.

On 30 March 2020, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a text that allows the government to suspend the enforcement of certain laws, depart from provisions enshrined in the existing ones and implement additional extraordinary measures by decree for a practically unlimited period of time, with new limitations on media and information.

Such a concentration of power is unprecedented in the European Union. It does not serve the fight against Covid-19 or its economic consequences; instead, it opens the door to all types of abuses, with both public and private assets now at the mercy of an executive that is largely unaccountable. It is the culmination of Hungary’s 10-year drift towards authoritarianism, and it is dangerous.

Indeed, it is with great concern that we observed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán embark his country on a track diverging from European norms and values over the last decade. This power-grab in response to Covid-19 is just a new and alarming chapter in a long process of democratic backsliding.

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Political opposition, social dialogue, and free speech have increasingly been silenced, with various universities, cultural hubs, business groups and civil society organisations suffering the burden of Mr. Orbàn’s authoritative rule. The European Parliament has twice analysed and condemned this undemocratic drift with the Tavares and Sargentini reports in 2013 and 2018 respectively.

For those who believe in the values of rule of law and democratic government, inaction is not an option. The Union risks discrediting all its efforts to foster democratic processes, the rule of law, transparency, solidarity, and social dialogue not only in all Member States but amongst candidate countries as well.

To face this generation-defining pandemic, all EU countries must adopt difficult measures that, to some extent, limit their citizens’ civil rights. However, these measures should remain proportionate and justified, and temporary in nature.
Enabling the rule by government decrees for a practically unlimited time, is a severe violation of EU Treaties, of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That is why, denouncing and sanctioning Mr. Orbán’s attack on democracy is more crucial today than ever.

We therefore call on all stakeholders – European institutions, national institutions and governments, citizens, civil society, and the media – to be as vigilant as they can. It is time for widespread mobilisation and collective action.

We call on national media to dedicate news segments to the Hungarian situation, daily if needs be. We also ask them to grant Hungarian citizens, as European citizens, free access to their content as a source of pluralistic and independent

We call on the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to urgently react and propose sanctions proportional to the seriousness of such an unacceptable violation of European rules and values.

The European Parliament and the Council should adopt these sanctions without delay.

Covid-19 must and will be beaten thanks to democratic processes, transparent action, and pluralistic information. It is by defending these values that we will mobilise the European population at large and ensure our common road to recovery enjoys widespread support.

We finally call on all European citizens to look at what is happening in Hungary not as an externality but as a fundamental threat to our common interest.

It is time for all of us to unite in this fight. What is at stake is not only our health, but our shared ideals, and the survival of our Union and democracies.

On the initiative of CIVICO Europa Members:
Laszlo Andor (HU), Economist, former Member of the European Commission
Guillaume Klossa (FR), Co-President of CIVICO Europa, former Director of the European Broadcasting Union, former Sherpa to the reflection group on the future of Europe (European Council)
Francesca Ratti (IT), Co-President of CIVICO Europa, former Deputy Secretary General of European Parliament
Guy Verhofstadt (BE), MEP, former Prime Minister

With the Civico Europa contributors (full list on
Gian-Paolo Accardo (IT), Editor in chief of Voxeurop; Brando Benefei (IT), MEP; Carl Bildt (SE), former Prime Minister; Andras Bozoki (HU), Professor, former Minister of Culture; Jean-Pierre Bourguignon (FR), mathematician, former President of the European Research ; Saskia Bricmont (BE), MP; Franziska Brantner (DE), MP, former MEP; Philippe de Buck (BE), former DG Business Europe; Jasmina Cibic (SLO), Artist; Tremeur Denigot (FR), Director of communications CIVICO Europa; Mladen Dolar (SLO), Philosopher; Paul Dujardin (BE), BOZAR Director General; Pascal Durand (FR), MEP; Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (DK), former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Michele Fiorillo (IT), Philosopher, Responsible for civic movements network CIVICO Europa; Cynthia Fleury (FR), Philosopher, Psychoanalyst; Markus Gabriel (DE), Philosopher; Sandro Gozi (IT), MEP, President of the European Federalist Union, former Secretary of State for European Affairs; Ulrike Guerot (DE), Political scientist; David Harley (UK), Writer, former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament; Gábor Hórvat (HU), Journalist; Srecko Horvat (HR); PhilosopherDanuta Hübner (PL), MEP, former Member of the European Commission; Tvrtko Jakovina (HR), Historian; Miljenko Jergovic (HR), writer and journalist; Jean-Claude Juncker (LU), former Prime Minister, former President of the European Commission; Jyrki Katainen (FI), former Prime Minister, former Vice-president of the European Commission; Aleksander Kwasniewski (PL), former President of the Republic; Christophe Leclercq (FR), Founder Euractiv; Christian Leffler (SE), former Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service; Sándor Léderer (HU), Co-founder and Director of K-Monitor; Bernard-Henri Lévy (FR), Philosopher; Sven-Otto Littorin (SE),Sven Otto Littorin (SE), former Minister of Employment; Henri Malosse (FR), 30th President of the European Economic and social Committee; Joelle Milquet (BE), former special Adviser of the President of the European Commission, former Deputy Prime Minister; Alexandra Mitsotaki (GR), President of the World Human Forum; Carlos Moedas (PT), former Member of the European Commission; John Monks (UK), Member of the House of Lords, former Secretary general of the European Trade Union Conference; Jonathan Moskovic (BE), Adviser in democratic innovation; Niklas Nordstrom (SE), former Mayor of Lulea and former Chairman of Business Sweden; Stojan Pelko (SLO), former State Secretary for culture; Rosen Plevneliev (BU), former President of the Republic; Magali Plovie (BE), President of the French-speaking Brussels Parliament; Miguel Poiares Maduro (PT), former Minister for Regional Development; Wojciech Przybilski, Editor of Visegrad Insight (PL); Vesna Pusic (HR), Sociologist, MP, former Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Nina Rawal (SE), Entrepreneur; Michel Reimon (AT), former MEP; Maria Joao Rodrigues (PT), former Minister, former MEP, President of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS); Petre Roman (RO), former Prime Minister; Taavi Roivas (EE), former Prime Minister; Lavinia Sandru (RO), Journalist; Fernand Savater (ES), Philosopher; Roberto Saviano (IT), Writer, journalist; Seid Serdarević (HR) publisher, Fraktura; Majda Sirca (SLO), former Minister for Culture; Denis Simonneau (FR), President of EuropaNova; Claus Sorensen (DK), former Director General at the European Commission; Gesine Schwan (DE), former Dean of the Frankfurt Viadrina University, former candidate to presidency of the Federal German Republic; Vladimir Spidla (CZ), former Prime Minister, former Member of the European Commission; Farid Tabarki (ND), Journalist, producer; Rui Tavares (PT), Writer, historian, former MEP; Zeljko Trkanec (HR), Editor in Chief; Monika Vana (AT), MEP; Alvaro de Vasconcelos (PT), former Director of the European Union Security Institute; Cedric Villani (FR), Fields Medal, MP; Pietro Vimont (FR), Cofounder of CIVICO Europa; Margot Wallstrom (SE), former vice-president of the European Commission; Sasha Waltz & Jochen Sanding (DE), respectively Choreographer and Director of the Sasha Waltz Company; Josef Weidenholzer (AT), Professor, former MEP; Marlene Wind (DK), Professor, writer; Slavoj Zizek (SLO), Philosopher; Alenka Zupancic (SLO), Philosopher.

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