How the EU let Hungary become an illiberal model

How the EU let Hungary become an illiberal model

The New York Times reports:

After long indulging him, leaders in the European Union now widely consider Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary an existential threat to a bloc that holds itself up as a model of human rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Orban has spent the past decade steadily building his “illiberal state,” as he proudly calls Hungary, with the help of lavish E.U. funding. Even as his project widened fissures in the bloc, which Hungary joined in 2004, his fellow national leaders mostly looked the other way, committed to staying out of one another’s affairs.

But now Mr. Orban’s defiance and intransigence has had an important, if unintended, effect: serving as a catalyst for an often-sluggish European Union system to act to safeguard the democratic principles that are the foundation of the bloc.

Early this year, the European Court of Justice will issue a landmark decision on whether the union has the authority to make its funds to member states conditional on meeting the bloc’s core values. Doing so would allow Brussels to deny billions of euros to countries that violate those values.

The bloc has consistently worked on political consensus among national leaders. But Mr. Orban has pushed Brussels toward a threshold it had long avoided: making membership subject to financial punishments, not merely political ones.

The new frontier could help solve an old problem — what to do about bad actors in its ranks — while creating new ones. Not least, it could invite the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to exercise a new level of interference in the affairs of member states. [Continue reading…]

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