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Democracy on Life Support: A broader crisis?

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These are long versions of the answers that experts gave us for the Lead Article “Democracy on Life Support” which deals with the rollback of democracy in some Eastern European countries. The article is focusing on the situation in Hungary. Below you find the answers from our three interviewees to the following question…

Do Orbán’s politics contribute to the broader economic and political crisis in Europe? If so, how? If not, why do you see them as isolated?

Hartmann: The Hungarian economy is neither large enough nor damaged enough to be a (main) contributor to the economic crisis in Europe. However, austerity measures not being taken might set the Hungarian budgeting off balance in the years to come. Also, populist and nationalist regressions in Europe have been dealt with before, so that Orbán’s policies in themselves are not a major crisis factor, but rather just contribute to the overall picture of political regression in Europe. What is, however, an unfortunate development is the slow and lukewarm response which the erosion of rule of law in Hungary has been receiving from Brussels and other European capitals. If the EU is perceived to be a paper tiger when it comes to democracy and human rights standards, establishing standards which it is unable or unwilling to keep up at home, a crisis of legitimacy arises which will be hard to overcome.

Citizen X: In the last ten years, Hungary was a typical instance of budgetary imbalance, state indebtedness and irresponsible economic processes. In this period burdened by a world economic crisis, Hungary, most unfortunately, needed and still needs the help of the international monetary institutions, and the situation necessitates a powerful crisis management as well. The ambivalent negotiation policy of the Orbán government against the IMF does not help the stabilization of the Hungarian economy or the recovery of the trust of the markets, and it has negative effects on the EU as well. It is characteristic of the Hungarian government that it mixes economic interests with political interests – just think about the introduction of the strict flat tax system or the redemption of the MOL shares, or, on the other side, about the new Labor Code. Such behaviours sometimes strengthen, other times weaken the positions of the country and its society. Their contradictions should be eliminated, and then Hungary could play a positive role and become a good example, strengthening the EU as well.

Szálkai: Hungary is a member of the EU, therefore the Hungarian government cannot be treated isolated from it. Hungary represents the EU and influences its international judgement and economic credibility with its political and economic decisions. If Hungary experiences a decline in democratic values, let alone European values, or in economic growth, it definitely contributes to a decrease in trust and credibility towards the EU – and, in this way, it contributes to the deepening of the economic and political crisis in Europe as well.

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Tom Fries Twitter: @tom_friesTom

Erstwhile neuroscientist ('97-'00), rowing coach ('99-'10), business student ('07-'09) and cupcake entrepreneur ('09). Now enjoying international work in the Germany and Washington offices of one of Germany's most prominent think tanks.