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Viktor Orbán’s Governments since 2010

Hungary has been led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán since 2010. Following the 2010 election, his Fidesz party and its allies commanded a majority of over two-thirds in the Hungarian National Assembly, enabling it to make wide-ranging changes to the Constitution. Orbán said these were needed to fully eradicate the legacy of communism. He has also emphasised the need to protect Hungary’s national culture and has promoted traditional pro-family polices.

On 3 April 2022, Fidesz and its allies won a fourth consecutive term in office in Hungary’s general election, retaining their two-thirds majority.  

Since 2010, human rights groups and international organisations, including the EU and Council of Europe, have expressed concerns about several developments in Hungary. These include the following:

  • Judicial reforms: These involved changes to the retirement age in 2012 for judges meaning a large number of judges had to retire abruptly. A National Judicial Office was also created, with the President given sweeping powers to appoint, transfer and discipline judges.
  • Increased state control over the media: The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has referred to politically controlled media regulation and “distortionary” state intervention in the media market with independent journalism undermined.
  • Migration and refugees: The Orbán Government has strongly opposed EU attempts to establish mandatory quotas for the resettlement of refugees. The Government accused the EU of forcing Hungary to let in illegal migrants.
  • Attacks on the activities of George Soros: Soros, a Hungarian-born businessman and philanthropist, was accused by the Government of encouraging mass immigration to undermine Europe. In January 2017, the Government announced plans to ban the activities of his Open Society Foundation.
  • Higher education law: Changes to higher education legislation in April 2017 imposed conditions on the operation of foreign universities in Hungary. This led the Central European University, founded by George Soros, to leave the country.
  • NGOs: In June 2017 the National Assembly adopted legislation requiring NGOs receiving more than €24,000 annually in overseas funding to register as “foreign-supported” and to disclose their donors.
  • “Stop Soros law”: Legislation in 2018 criminalising individuals or groups who help undocumented migrants make asylum claims to stay in Hungary (if the migrants are not entitled to asylum) was described by the Government as a “Stop Soros” law.
  • LGBT+ legislation: In 2020, the National Assembly passed legislation ending legal recognition for trans people. In 2021, it adopted further legislation prohibiting the promotion of positive images of homosexuality to minors. The Government is also holding a referendum on questions related to this to coincide with the April 2022 national election.

International relationships

Hungary, Russia and Ukraine

Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. But it has also sought to develop closer relations with Russia since 2010.

Hungary has previously had a tense relationship with Ukraine. The Hungarian Government has accused Ukraine of depriving ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine of their rights. Ukraine has accused Hungary of interfering in its politics. It also criticised a recent long-term gas supply deal signed by Hungary with Russia. Following his election victory in April 2022, Orbán referred to Ukraine’s President as one of the opponents he had defeated in the election.

Hungary has implemented EU sanctions against Russia introduced in response to its actions in Ukraine. However, Orbán has said he opposes the expansion of sanctions to include Russian energy imports. Unlike neighbouring EU countries, Hungary has not provided Ukraine with military equipment or allowed equipment for Ukraine to transit through its territory. Over 350,000 people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have taken refuge in Hungary.

Hungary’s position on the conflict has created tensions with Poland, usually an ally in disputes with the EU.

Fidesz and other European parties

Fidesz was part of the main centre-right political grouping in the EU, the European People’s Party (EPP). It was suspended from the EPP in 2014 and eventually left it in 2021.

In 2021, Fidesz supported a joint statement on the future of Europe with the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, the Italian League and Brothers of Italy, and French National Rally. This emphasised “pro-family policy”, and the need to respect the culture and history of European states and reject mass immmigration.

EU reaction

The European Commission has taken legal action against Hungary in relation to several of the developments discussed above. This has included referrals to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) for breaches of EU law. CJEU cases relating to Hungary include the following:

  • A ruling in November 2012 that the lowering of the retirement age for judges in Hungary violated EU equal treatment rules.
  • A ruling in December 2020 that Hungary had breached various provisions of EU Asylum law. This was followed by another referral by the European Commission in November 2021, asking the CJEU to place financial penalties on Hungary for non-compliance with the 2020 ruling.
  • A ruling in April 2020 that Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic had failed to fulfil their obligations under EU law in relation to the EU temporary relocation mechanism for refugees.
  • A ruling in June 2020 that Hungary’s NGO law was discriminatory and imposed unjustified restrictions contrary to EU rules.
  • A ruling in October 2020 that the conditions introduced in 2017 on foreign higher education institutions were incompatible with EU law.
  • A ruling in November 2021, that the so-called “Stop Soros” law breached EU law by criminalising persons providing assistance in respect of the making asylum claims in Hungary.

European Parliament resolution on breach of EU values

In September 2018, the European Parliament called on the Council of the EU to determine if there was a clear risk of a breach of EU values by Hungary. This was adopted as a resolution under an EU treaty procedure, which can potentially lead to the suspend of a Member State’s voting rights in the Council of the EU. However, this has not proceeded to the next stage.

Moving to a decision to determine “a serious and persistent breach” by a Member State would require a unanimous European Council (heads of state or government) decision. This is viewed as a stumbling block to further action as while the Member State being sanctioned cannot vote, the decision can be vetoed by another Member State.

Conditionality mechanism in EU budget

In 2020, EU leaders agreed on a “rule of law” conditionality mechanism in the EU budget and coronavirus recovery package for 2021 to 2027. This was subject to a legal challenge by Hungary and Poland. The CJEU dismissed this challenge in February 2022.

Under the conditionality mechanism, the European Commission can suspend budget payments to a Member State where breaches of the principles of the rule of law in a Member State affect or seriously risk affecting “the sound financial management” of the EU budget or the financial interests of the EU.

In October 2021, the European Parliament filed a case against the European Commission at the CJEU for its failure so far to activate the mechanism. On 5 April 2022, the President of the European Commission said the Commission would be triggering the mechanism against Hungary. It will be the first Member State to be subject to the mechanism.

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