Juncker speaks out on Hungary’s illiberal drift

Jean-Claude Juncker [European Commission]

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on Hungary’s “illiberal drift”, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said today (6 April) that he did not like the push to close the Central European University, founded by George Soros, and commented on the “Let’s Stop Brussels” initiative.

Juncker appeared in front of the press with the President of the Swiss Confederation Doris Leuthard. After questions on EU-Swiss relations were exhausted, spokesperson Mina Andreeva put an end to the press point, but Juncker signaled he was willing to answer a question about Hungary.

EURACTIV asked what he thought of the “illiberal drift” of Hungary, a member state which behaves as though it wants to leave the EU. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself has called his style of governance “illiberal democracy”.

In recent days, Hungary passed a bill targeting the English-language Central European University (CEU). Set up in 1991 after the fall of communism, the university has long been seen  by Orbán’s government as a hostile bastion of liberalism. Hungary also launched an initiative called “Let’s Stop Brussels”.

Questionnaires titled “Let’s stop Brussels!” have been arriving in Hungarian letterboxes since 1 April, only days after leaders gathered in Rome to mark the EU’s 60th anniversary.

Commission unmoved by Orbán’s ‘Stop Europe’ initiative

Hungary launched an initiative called “Let’s stop Brussels” shortly after its prime minister returned from the Rome summit. Asked about it today (4 April), the Commission highlighted the fact that Viktor Orbán had signed the strongly pro-European text only days before.

Juncker said that the College of Commissioners would discuss the issue of the closure of the university next Wednesday.

Commission to debate Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ drift on 12 April

The Juncker Commission will hold a “first debate” over the drift toward ‘illiberal democracy’ in Hungary at its next meeting on Wednesday (12 April), with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans making a presentation.

“I do not like that decision,” he said.

He also criticised the “Let’s Stop Brussels” questionnaire as “biased”.

“As for the questionnaire that Mr. Orbán has sent to all Hungarian households, there is no question of leaving the European Union, but it is a question of stopping Brussels. After reading this biased questionnaire, I would like to better understand Mr. Orbán’s intentions. But this way of smearing Brussels after signing the Rome Declaration says more about the author of the questionnaire than about the state of the European Union,” Juncker said.

Hungarianspectrum.org published a translation of the questionnaire, which allows to the reader to form their own opinion on whether it is biased and to which conclusions the questions lead.

  1. Brussels is planning to take a dangerous step. It wants to force the abolition of utility rate reduction on us. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Defend the utility rate reduction. We should insist that the price of utilities must be determined in Hungary. (b) We should accept the plan of Brussels and trust the large companies with fixing utility prices.
  2. In recent times, terror attack after terror attack has taken place in Europe. Despite this fact, Brussels wants to force Hungary to allow illegal immigrants into the country. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) For the sake of the safety of Hungarians these people should be placed under supervision (felügyelet) while the authorities decide their fate. (b) Allow the illegal immigrants to move freely in Hungary.
  3. By now it has become clear that, in addition to the smugglers, certain international organizations encourage the illegal immigrants to commit illegal acts. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Activities assisting illegal immigration such as human trafficking and the popularization of illegal immigration must be punished. (b) Let us accept that there are international organizations which, without any consequences, urge the circumvention of Hungarian laws.
  4. More and more foreign-supported organizations operate in Hungary with the aim of interfering in the internal affairs of our country in an opaque manner. These organizations could jeopardize our independence. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Require them to register, revealing the objectives of their activities and the sources of their finances. (b) Allow them to continue their risky activities without any supervision.
  5. In the last few years we have been successful at job creation because we followed our own strategies. But Brussels is attacking our job-creating measures. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) We, Hungarians, must continue to make decisions on the future of the Hungarian economy. (b) Brussels should decide what to do in the economic sphere.
  6. Hungary is committed to tax cuts. Brussels is attacking Hungary because of it. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) We should insist that we, Hungarians, decide on tax cuts. (b) We should accept that Brussels dictates the level of taxes.

Hungary was once a democracy: Now it is an 'Orbanocracy'

If democracy was the buzzword of the first two decades following the end of the Cold War, illiberal democracy appears to be the buzzword of today, writes Daniel Penev.

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