Merkel urges Hungary’s Orbán to respect opposition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel consults with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (right) at an EPP Congress in 2012. [European People's Party/Flickr]

During a visit to Budapest, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to take a more open approach towards political opposition and civil society. But the move was not enough according to observers, who accused Merkel of cronyism with a “mafia state”. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“I have indicated that even if you have a broad majority, as the Hungarian Prime Minister does, it’s very important in a democracy to appreciate the role of the opposition, civil society and the media,” said Merkel on Monday (2 February) after a three-hour meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister.

Societies thrive on competing with each other for the best path, the Christian Democrats’ party leader continued. “I believe, that this is also an important model for Hungary”.

During the meeting between the two heads of government, Hungarian anti-terror police blocked a demonstration in front of the German-language Andrássy University. This was posted by the organisers, MostMi, via Facebook. Merkel made a speech later that afternoon, speaking to students at the Andrássy University.

Amnesty International: “witch-hunt on NGOs must stop”

For months, Orbán has been under criticism for his behaviour towards opposition forces. Thanks to an overwhelming majority held by his Fidesz Party in parliament, the right-wing politician was able to push through legislative amendments that increased the government’s control over the justice system and the media.

In a report released on Monday, the human rights organisation Amnesty International documents the Hungarian state’s politically-driven approach to non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Their backs to the wall: civil society under pressure in Hungary, describes searches of offices and houses, confiscations and politically-motivated economic assessments, which often result in the imprisonment of employees and the dissolution of a company.

“The constant assaults of Hungarian authorities on NGOs exhibit all the qualities of a witch-hunt. The EU should not allow Russian practices against civil society to be imported into an EU member state. Angela Merkel must make use of the chance during her visit, to put targeted pressure on the Hungarian government to protect human rights,” said the Secretary-General of Amnesty International Germany, Selmin Çal??kan, before the meeting between Orbán and Merkel.

Hungary analyst: Merkel pursuing power rather than human rights

But, according to Hungary analyst Markus Schicker, such targeted pressure was missing on Monday. “Mrs. Merkel stuck to toothless words. She actually said the same thing she said four years ago. This kind of gibberish has got to stop,” Schicker told EURACTIV Germany.

He called on Merkel to use her prominent position in Europe and in the influential European People’s Party (EPP) to introduce concrete instruments against violations of fundamental rights in individual member states.

The Hungary analyst recommended a monitoring and sanctioning system under which the EU could charge Hungary for infringement of Articles 1 and 2 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Besides the human rights situation in Hungary, Schicker criticised “escalating kleptocracy” in the country. “Orbán has established a corrupt mafia state, in which even EU funds are shifted into private networks.”

At the meeting , Merkel could have at least indicated that the European fundamental rights must be respected – by Hungary as well, he contended. But, instead, because of power politics interests, the German Chancellor is idly watching while Orbán breaches EU law, Schicker said. “And all that, even though Merkel’s CDU and Orbán’s Fidesz Party are EPP partners.”

Thousands of Hungarians demonstrated against Prime Minister Orbán’s policies on Sunday (1 February) before the parliament in Budapest. Along with a “new Hungarian Republic”, demonstrators called for respect of European fundamental rights and for the country to turn away from Russia. Because democratic freedoms have been trampled upon and corruption is thriving in Hungary, the protesters demanded Orbán’s resignation.

>> Read: Hungarian protests show growing opposition to Orbán

After the meeting, Orbán did not comment on criticism of his style of governance. Instead, he pointed out the important role that economic relations play between Germany and Hungary. Thanks, in part, to the activities of German companies, Orbán said Hungary’s employment rate is higher than it has been in decades.

German companies have created 300,000 jobs in his country, the Prime Minister emphasised. Last year, he indicated, Hungarian exports to Germany climbed to a record high of €21 billion. “All I can say to the German Chancellor is: Thank you Germany.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, leader of the Fidesz party, has clashed repeatedly with the European Union and foreign investors over his unorthodox policies.

Fidesz is affiliated to the European People's Party (EPP), the mainstream centre-right party which has the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.

In the past four years, Orbán's policies have included a nationalisation of private pension funds, "crisis taxes" on big business, and a relief scheme for mortgage holders for which the banks, mostly foreign-owned, had to pay.

His policies helped Hungary emerge from recession, but some economists say Orbán may have scared off the kind of investment Hungary needs for long-term growth.

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