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Mar 29, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

What is happening “has the character of a coup”

Over the past few years, Hungary has been subject to its fair share of double standards from the European Union. Having been wrongly accused of curtailing the freedom of the press, undermining checks and balances and the rule of law, the Orbán government, although cleared on all charges, was labeled the EU’s “black sheep”. A familiar narrative has emerged in Poland.

Over the past few years, Hungary has been subject to its fair share of double standards from the European Union. Having been wrongly accused of curtailing the freedom of the press, undermining checks and balances and the rule of law, the Orbán government, although cleared on all charges, was labeled the EU’s “black sheep”. A familiar narrative has emerged in Poland, where the government of the Law and Justice Party that was elected in 2015 has come under attack for new laws and for opposing large-scale immigration.

President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz has become one of Poland’s most vocal critics. Last week, as heads of state and government from the EU member states and Turkey met to discuss the migrant crisis and find a common solution, Schulz took the occasion to deliver a speech at the summit, voicing his concerns. His comments, based mainly on last week’s Venice Commission report on Poland, focused on governmental reforms, especially those related to Poland’s Constitutional Court. In an interview on the German radio outlet Deutschlandfunk, Schulz even went so far as to say that, “what is happening in Poland has the character of a coup.”

We see where this is going with Poland because we have been there, too. During Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s visit to Budapest in February, PM Orbán reiterated that, “Poland can count on Hungary’s solidarity in the face of any form of double standards, from whatever source.” Hungary and Poland have enjoyed a tried-and-tested, close friendship for centuries, but that’s not the sole reason Prime Minister Orbán said what he said. Instead, it is worrying – while we’re on the subject of a “coup” – that the European Union, based on misinformation,  applies pressure on a democratically elected government because it does not conform neatly to the political mainstream. Such behavior raises serious questions about democracy and respect in the European Union, where the political left abuses the functions of EU institutions in order to take revenge on governments that are not to its liking.

At the summit meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rose to defend Poland’s actions, stating that Hungary does not like double standards, and therefore does not support them being applied to anyone, including Poland. He highlighted that if we criticize those states with provisions regulating the functioning of their constitutional courts, perhaps we should also criticize countries where there is no constitutional court at all. He was referring to countries such as Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland or the Netherlands, to name a few, where no such institution exists.

We were not the only ones bothered by the double standards. Prime Minister David Cameron, also took sides with the Polish, warning Schulz that one cannot lecture democratically elected leaders on democracy.

These political antics just won’t do. Abusing the function of the European Parliament to criticize the democratic governments of member states is unacceptable. It is unacceptable in times of peace, when everything is harmonious. And it is even more unacceptable when Europe has more important issues to confront, of which there are, it seems, at least a few.