Last Wednesday, the European Commission announced that the anti-corruption reforms adopted and announced so far in Hungary are insufficient to restore trust that EU funds will be used in a correct and proper way, and therefore proposed to the Council to freeze at least part of these funds. For this to actually happen, however, the Council must adopt this proposal by qualified majority. And it looks like it won’t.
From what I hear and read, the German government, among others, is working tirelessly to ensure that this majority is not reached on Tuesday in the Ecofin Council. Together with France, Italy and others, Germany is said to want to accommodate Orbán in the hope that he will then be so kind as to stop blackmailing the Union with his veto of the aid package for Ukraine and the minimum taxation for multinationals, which are to be decided unanimously on Tuesday. The Commission should therefore please reconsider whether the Hungarian efforts made since 19 November can perhaps be found sufficient to allay its concerns after all.
Anti-corruption but only so far as the regime allows
Since the beginning of October, Kim Scheppele, Gábor Mészaros, Petra Bárd, Dan Kelemen and John Morijn have explained in detail and with great precision why these so-called efforts must be seen as a rather clever window-dressing exercise at best. All these shiny new anti-corruption authorities and anti-corruption laws in Hungary are carefully designed to ensure that the fight against corruption only goes as far as the regime allows, and not an inch further, and I suppose it is safe to assume that Council, Commission, and Chancellery are all very well aware of all this by now. The corruption of Orbán’s regime is, after all, not (solely) the result of the personal character flaws of the officials involved, but a result of it being an authoritarian regime.
As any authoritarian regime, to maintain its power, it is, in the absence of a functioning democracy, ultimately dependent on being able to buy the support of a sufficiently influential section of society by enriching it with public money, which, in the case of Hungary, mostly comes from the coffers of the EU. These transfer funds do not simply seep away because of negligent oversight at the hands of the government. They are what keeps that very government’s whole corrupt authoritarian regime alive in the first place.
Rule of law mechanism
All this is not new at all and has been well known for a long time, which is why the EU created the so-called rule of law mechanism for itself two years ago, in order to finally defend itself effectively against rule-of-law backsliding on the member-state level. The previous German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed through a compromise in December 2020 to make sure that the governments of Poland and Hungary would be sufficiently unafraid of that mechanism to drop their blackmailing budget veto. A great success it was for the German chancellor back then. Now we see the effects in all their beauty.
Appeasement and diplomacy
Times have changed, as they like to say in Berlin nowadays. The Chancellor is now Olaf Scholz. But the policy seems to have remained the same at its core, that of appeasement and diplomacy. The result of this policy is that it has become a by-and-large acceptable option for an EU member state to be run by an authoritarian regime.
So, that’s where we are now: The blackmailer pockets his ransom, the EU transfers keep flowing, filling the pipelines of corruption in Hungary, feeding the tanks of the regime’s friends and supporters, pumping through the veins of its power. It is all of our money that is flowing. Viktor Orbán owes it all to us, our money, our cowardice, our calculation, our automobile industry, our Chancellor: us.
We are Viktor Orbán.