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Hungary censors Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - And why the European Union needs to stand up

Orban rally in 2012 (photo by Derzs Elekes Andor via Wikimedia Commons)


On November 29 Hungarian news outlet Nepszava reported that MTVA, Hungary's government controlled news agency, ordered its staff to ban statements from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Censorship of human rights-related content is yet another step towards authoritarianism in the country.

Freedom House ranks Hungary as "partly free", giving it a score of 70 out of 100. "Hungary’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to sustained attacks on the country’s democratic institutions by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, which has used its parliamentary supermajority to impose restrictions on or assert control over the opposition, the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, asylum seekers, and the private sector since 2010," Freedom House writes in a 2019 report.

The Council of the European Union (EU) will hold a hearing on Article 7 proceedings against Hungary on 10 December to determine whether Hungary is in breach of the EU’s core values and rule of law.

The EU is considering tying funding to rule of law criteria which would penalize Hungary and other countries that have taken an illiberal turn in recent years.

Hungary's economy is heavily dependent on the EU. In 2017 82% of Hungary’s exports went to EU countries (Germany 27%, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Italy all 5%), while just 2% went to the United States and Ukraine.

75% of imports came from EU Member States (Germany 25%, Austria 6% and Poland and the Netherlands 5%), while 6% came from China and 5% from Russia.

The EU also sends funds to Hungary. In 2017 the EU provided 4.049 billion euros to Hungary, accounting for 3.43% of its gross national income (GNI). Hungary only contributed 821 million euros to the EU budget.

Hungary received funding from the EU after the 2008 financial crisis. In 2008 Hungarian authorities applied to the EU, the IMF and the World Bank for financial assistance and received 5.5. billion euros from the EU.

In November Hungary's Justice Minister Judit Varga described possible cuts to EU cohesion funding as "unacceptable", adding that Hungary does not support a rule-of-law mechanism "which could lose its intergovernmental nature and provide the European Commission with another tool to apply political pressure."

Hungary is a sovereign state and the EU cannot undo the policies that the government of Viktor Orban has pursued. However, the EU should not be funding authoritarian states. A value-base economic policy should be a priority both within the EU and in trade relations with non-EU states.

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