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19 November 2018

The European Union’s Democratic Deficit – After the Strasbourg Vote on Hungary

"The European Parliament (EP)’s decision to censure Hungary illustrates a larger process that has been unfolding in Europe. We knew – at least some of us did – that the European elites that for several decades have been ruling over the souls and the minds of people have lost the ability – assuming they ever had it – to listen to and understand points of view different from their own. We knew – at least some of us did – that they do not tolerate any form of dissent and treat all dissenters as enemies to be silenced and marginalised. What we did not know was how far they could go in their ideological fervour."


The European Parliament (EP)’s decision to censure Hungary illustrates a larger process that has been unfolding in Europe. We knew – at least some of us did that the European elites that for several decades have been ruling over the souls and the minds of people have lost the ability assuming they ever had it – to listen to and understand points of view different from their own. We knew – at least some of us did – that they do not tolerate any form of dissent and treat all dissenters as enemies to be silenced and marginalised. What we did not know was how far they could go in their ideological fervour. The EP’s resolution on Hungary proves that they can go very far indeed and are ready to go even further.

The basis for the accusation was “a serious breach by Hungary of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU”. Those values enumerated in Article 2 are: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights, pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women. The first question that needs to be asked is whether the European Union itself respects the “values” it professes. This is far from certain, in fact there is persuasive evidence that it does not.

Let us take the value of “democracy”. The “democratic deficit” – to use a well-known euphemistic term – is a widely, almost officially acknowledged characteristic of the EU. One can plausibly argue that the EU itself could be accused of violating the “value of democracy”, and as such, should refrain from being an arbiter of democratic principles in member states. One could also, with considerable plausibility, have doubts about whether the EU respects equality – some member states are definitely more equal than others – or freedom, as the tendency to penalise politically incorrect positions clearly increases, etc. In other words, the EU has enough sins under its belt to render its credentials as moral arbiter less than convincing.

How cavalier this arbiter can be vis-à-vis “European values” is revealed by the EP approach to the rule of law. Unsure of the final result of the vote on the Hungary resolution the EP authorities chose a voting arrangement according to which abstentions did not count. This was a clear breach of article 354 of the TFEU, which explicitly stipulates that “for the purposes of Article 7 …. the European Parliament shall act by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast”, i.e., of all the votes including abstentions. If the EP had acted according to the Treaty, the resolution would have been rejected.

The EU’s foul play is a consequence not only of the democratic deficit, but primarily of its having been in the hands of the same political coalition from the very beginning. We can compare the EU to a country in which one and the same political constellation stays in power for 30, or 40, or as it sometimes happens, 80 years. The experience of such countries teaches us unmistakably that staying in power for too long always generates political pathologies, and the EU, considering that it is not a collection of morally unblemished saints, is no exception.

This prolonged rule has a direct effect on how “values” are perceived. Since those enumerated in Article 2 are extremely general, ambiguous and devoid of any clear legal meaning, their interpretation is determined by the political agenda of those who interpret them. And within the EU it is the ruling coalition that has this exclusive power to declare authoritatively who respects the European values and who violates them. This has resulted – as it had to – in the persistent practice of double standards.

Examples of double standards in the EP resolution abound. Hungary was accused of “violence against Jewish persons and property” although in reality it is not Hungary, but countries such as Germany, France, and several others that have had serious problems with anti-Semitism, with synagogues being vandalised and Jewish communities attacked. It is there, not in Hungary, that racist incidents happen. Hungary was criticised for its higher education act which imposed common rules on all universities and colleges, including the foreign ones such as the Central European University (CEU), but in most European countries the functioning of foreign colleges is strictly regulated, and such privileges that had been accorded to the CEU would not have been possible.

Justifying those double standards was no problem. It was enough to select only those opinions which supported the politically pre-determined conclusion. The EP based its resolution solely on the opinions of those few groups within Hungary that were highly critical of the Hungarian government and tallied closely with the views of the EP majority. Other groups were either not consulted, or if they were, their testimonies were ignored. So the resolution was inherently one-sided, and at the outset conceived as such. One searches in vain for phrases in the text like “on the other hand...”, or “the government’s argument is...”.

This approach – taking into account only one side of the conflict – has been characteristic of other European institutions as well, including the Venice Commission. The function of these institutions is to endorse the position of the European elites, not to provide a balanced description and assessment of the problem. The Venice Commission did it in Poland where they never bothered to talk to dissenting judges, and they did pretty much the same in Hungary. The authors of the EP resolution never bothered to provide any hard and verified evidence for their wild conclusions, because they did not have to. It was enough to refer to the Venice Commission and other bodies. And, as I suspect, during the next visit of the Venice Commission to Hungary, its representatives will refer to the EP resolution.

The power of the ruling majority reaches even further. Over the last decades, the EU has become more and more ideological, espousing mostly radical left- wing ideologies to which the nominally conservative side of the coalition also kowtowed. “European values” have thus turned into demands of radical leftist social engineering, and the EP resolution is full of such demands. The entire resolution was written in the same revolting leftist jargon, for instance abortion being classified as a “healthcare service”. Hungary was blasted for defending family and marriage, the latter defined in the only way that it can be defined, that is, as a union of a man and a woman. Predictably, the EP considered this definition “outdated and based on conservative beliefs”, and expected it to be urgently modernised so as to include “same-sex marriage”. The EP was also dismayed by the Hungarian government’s “promotion of family mainstreaming” instead of politically correct “gender mainstreaming”.

Such accusations are outrageous not only from the philosophical point of view. They are outrageous because the regulations relating to moral problems are among the exclusive prerogatives of the member states, at least according to the Treaties, and how a given country defines marriage is of no concern to any other country, or any international institution. But the ideological animus of the ruling majority knows no limits and respects no rules. The authors of the resolution managed to gather a lot of reinforcements to continue their ideological crusade against “outdated and conservative” moral beliefs: the UN agencies, the EU Agency of Fundamental Rights, the European Institute of Gender Equality, the Istanbul Convention and many more, not to mention the European Commission and the EP itself. This shows that the ideological front is powerful and that it would be an illusion to think that the member states are safely protected against the leftist crusaders by the letter of the Treaties.

Whatever illusions one could have, one had to part with them after having seen what happened after the vote on the Hungary resolution in the Strasbourg hemicycle. The moment the results were shown on the screen, the deputies went into a frenzy of enthusiasm: all frantically clapping hands and shouting in elation, some deputies throwing themselves into each other’s arms, some were kissing their neighbours, some even had tears of joy in their eyes. By normal standards this spectacle was pathetic. But the problem is that in the case of Hungary, as well as in that of Poland, from the very beginning there were no normal standards, and we do not know when or if at all they will be restored.




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