US diplomat: Hungary could lose its EU membership

Hungary Budapest Parliament Picnik.jpg

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is “abusing” his power and eroding democracy, which may lead to the country losing its EU membership, former US Ambassador Mark Palmer told a Hungarian daily newspaper today (2 January). 

"Hungary’s ejection from the European Union is now no longer unthinkable," Palmer, the ambassador to Hungary between 1986 and 1990, told Népszabadság, the leading opposition daily in Hungary.

The country "won’t be tolerated if it no longer counts as a democracy," Palmer said.

A controversial new constitution entered into force on 1 January. A number of 'basic laws' accompanying the Constitution were adopted on 30 December.

The basic laws are seen as undermining the independence of the Central Bank, the judiciary and the media. Critics also say that the new measures represent an assault on religious freedom by cutting down the number of recognised religious groups from 300 to 14.

Under its EU accession treaty, Hungary is obliged to adopt the euro as soon as it is ready. However, the new constitution makes the national currency, the forint, the country's only legal tender.

Critics also say a new election law would entrench Orbán's ruling Fidesz party for years to come.

 

Hungary's western partners are reportedly worried that the measures would not be able to be changed easily, as they require a two-thirds majority of the parliament.

 

Clinton criticises measures

Hungarian media published a letter from US State Secretary Hillary Clinton to Orbán, in which she expressed regrets that despite Washington's advice, the Constitution and the basic laws had not been reconsidered.

Clinton says that like the European Commission, the US takes the view that the new judicial law "dismantles important checks and balances preserving judicial independence". The US is also "deeply concerned" that no modifications had been made in the law on religions. As for the media law, Clinton shares the concerns expressed by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the US-based non-governmental organisation Freedom House, and a recent mission of press experts that the law concentrates too much power in the hands of a "politically appointed" Media Council.

Clinton also said she regretted the recent non-renewal of the broadcast licence of KlubRadio, a popular talk station with an audience of 500,000. Authorities transferred the licence from KlubRadio to an unknown entity with only €4,000 in capital. This action, according to Clinton, raises concern about the authorities' commitment to ensure diverse media voices.

The media law, however, received clearance from the European Commission last February, during the Hungarian EU presidency. Apparently disappointed with the EU's unwillingness to criticise a member state, Hungarian intellectuals have been calling on the USA to speak out against what they call their country's "autocratic system".

In April 2010, Hungarians voted overwhelmingly for a radical change, sending the ruling Socialists into opposition and giving the centre-right a qualified majority in parliament.

The election marked the biggest victory for any political party in a general election since the fall of communism 21 years earlier. However, several measures put in place by the new government have since fuelled controversy.

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