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Hungary has had a complicated relationship with the European Union for several years now, and this is not likely to change any time soon. Last year, the European Union sued Hungary over legislation banning LGBT content. Now 15 member states have joined the lawsuit. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden have all joined the European Union in the legal battle against Hungary’s Child Protection Act. As the deadline to become part of the lawsuit was April 6th, the 11 other member states missed their opportunity. Several political leaders in Europe have publicly voiced their displeasure with the law. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has gone as far as to say “As far as I am concerned, there is nothing left for them in the EU”.
Hungary’s Child Protection Law
The controversial legislation in question in the lawsuit was originally passed in Hungary in June 2021. Homosexual and gender reassignment imagery in media and education materials targeting those under the age of 18 is heavily restricted or even completely banned. Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, made it clear that she did not approve of the law and that it went against the fundamental values of the Treaty of the European Union, listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union. As a member state of the European Union, Hungary is required to respect these values. Hungary is accused of discrimination and portraying members of the LGBT community as paedophiles. This is because the law’s alleged purpose is to crack down on paedophilia, yet primarily focuses on restricting depictions of the LGBT. There was a referendum last year to show that the public supported the legislation, yet less than 50 percent of voters cast a valid ballot due to 1.6 million voters intentionally spoiling their ballots, rendering the results worthless. As in many countries, 50 percent of voters must cast a ballot in a referendum in Hungary in order for the referendum to be considered valid.
Viktor Orban’s Support In Hungary
While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has caused numerous conflicts in the European Union and has gotten the nation in trouble repeatedly with the European Union, he remains popular in Hungary. On April 3, 2022, Prime Minister Orban’s political party, Fidesz, won another parliamentary election. At first, it was anticipated that the election would be close because several opposition parties united against Fidesz, but Fidesz did even better than in 2018. Fidesz won 53.10 percent of the vote in 2022, compared to 49.6 percent of the vote in 2018. Since the start of this year, Fidesz has polled between 49 to 50 percent for who Hungarian voters would vote for, significantly ahead of the Democratic Coalition, which is currently second in the polls with 15 percent.
Clearly, an increasing number of Hungarians are unsatisfied with the political situation, as 8 percent of voters support the Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party). It was founded as a satirical party, but as the political party becomes increasingly popular, it has worked on becoming a more serious party. The party protested an election rule that only allows opposition parties five minutes on state-run television by sending a party representative in a chicken costume who clucked for the entirety of the allotted time. The political party was originally unregistered until a law made political party registration mandatory in 2014. If the party were to receive at least 5 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election, it would then receive at least one seat in parliament.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has partly been able to hold onto his power due to continuously changing election laws in order to stifle the competition. Besides allowing opposition parties minimal time on state-run television, political parties must run an increasingly higher number of candidates throughout the nation. This can be challenging for smaller political parties just starting out. According to Freedom House, Hungary is no longer a democracy but instead is considered a “transitional or hybrid regime” since 2020. Before then, Hungary was considered a “semi-consolidated democracy“. It is important to clarify that Hungary is no longer considered a democracy, not only due to Orban’s unpopularity abroad but also because the political opposition has an increasingly limited ability to debate legislation before Fidesz passes it. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled Germany for 16 years, yet Germany was still considered a democracy due to Merkel and the Christian Democrats not stifling the political opposition and stripping national political institutions of their independence as Prime Minister Orban has done in Hungary.
Article 7 Of The Treaty On The European Union
While the European Union is frustrated with Hungary as a member state, the EU cannot force Hungary out of the bloc. The United Kingdom left the EU through Article 50, which allows member states to choose to leave. However, there is no Article permitting the EU to kick out a member state. Instead, Hungary would need to choose to leave itself. In the meantime, the European Union still has some options. One option is Article 7 of the TEU, which allows voting rights to be stripped of a member state. However, this would require the unanimous approval of the 26 other member states, and as Poland and Hungary help protect each other, this is unlikely to happen. To date, Article 7 has never been used against a member state.
On the other hand, the European Union can restrict funding to a member state, as it has done with Hungary, for reasons of rule of law and corruption. The EU has put a hold on 55 percent of regional funding payments to Hungary, which is the equivalent of 20 percent of all funding Hungary receives from the European Union. Due to having a GDP per capita inferior to the average of the EU, Hungary is a recipient member state of the EU budget and receives more than it contributes. This acts as an incentive to Orban and the Hungarian government to correct the reforms that the member state has been doing. Hungary’s reforms and discussions with Brussels to unfreeze funds are expected to last until the summer. The European Union can also sue a member state through the European Court of Justice, which it has chosen to do over the LGBT bill. Whether this is successful is yet to be known.
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