Finally, we can start worrying again about rule of law in Hungary. It’s been a little disturbing to see that the EU’s Article 7 proceedings have lost steam, and it was outright scandalous to learn that the independence of the Hungarian judiciary has improved even according to the European Union’s very own Justice Scoreboard. Fortunately, just when we feared the issue might disappear altogether, the World Justice Project published its 2020 Rule of Law Index where Hungary has slipped to 60th place in their global ranking. The natural order of things has been restored.
Rankings are always useful because one can learn from those countries that place better in the index. For example, in one of the countries ahead of Hungary in the rankings, more than 30 civilians lost their life in a civil unrest that broke out last autumn. In another country ahead of us, expression of critical views against government officials is prohibited.
The Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project doesn’t include qualitative analysis or evaluation, or anything one could specifically refute – only numbers. And who could argue with numbers? Alas, if you look behind the numbers in the index, you will find that those figures are not even worth the argument.
The numbers, you see, are based on public opinion surveys and expert opinions. In other words: purely subjective indicators. There has never been a consensus on whether it is possible at all to present a comparative rule of law analysis that is based on objective and generally accepted standards. From a methodological point of view, it is even more doubtful whether one can measure the quality of rule of law on at least a minimum level of reliability. But the World Justice Project even goes one step further: using all visible accessories of science, from subjective opinions it creates numbers and rankings that create an illusion of objective and indisputable truth.
But that’s not all. If one takes a closer look, even the opinions fed into the report are problematic. Most of the experts who participated in the survey on Hungary remain anonymous, but among those who agreed to be named, representatives of organizations funded by George Soros figure prominently. Regarding the public opinion survey, the Rule of Law Index itself admits that it is not representative. In fact, it covers only three Hungarian cities: Budapest, Debrecen and Szeged. To be clear: this survey is not only non-representative, it is demographically and geographically imbalanced and politically biased.
And to add insult to injury, the public opinion survey was taken in 2017 and was used already for the 2017-2018 and the 2019 reports. Accordingly, Hungary slipped from the 53rd to the 60th place in the rankings between 2017 and 2020 without any new public opinion survey input. This statistical miracle would be the object of envy of the most seasoned fake news manufacturers.
For those who are genuinely interested in rule of law-related issues, here is my advice: be cautious with all rule of law indices.
Judit Varga is Minister of Justice in the Government of Hungary