Boycott! The regime in Hungary is undemocratic and unfit to hold the EU Presidency

14 June 2024

By Bernard Rorke 

The Hungarian regime is spectacularly unfit to hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union from July. Thursday’s ruling from the European Court of Justice over the abuse of the rights of asylum seekers is just the latest confirmation of how degraded is democracy in Hungary. Earlier this year, by a resounding majority, the European Parliament “condemned the deliberate, continuous and systematic efforts of the Hungarian government to undermine the EU’s founding values.” The resolution directly questioned whether the Hungarian Government would be fit to fulfil its presidency duties in the second half of 2024. 

The ERRC emphatically said NO in a statement issued in May, announcing that it would boycott the upcoming Hungarian Presidency, refuse to participate in the European Platform for Roma Inclusion, or any other event hosted by the Hungarian EU Presidency, and urged other civil society organisations to do likewise. 

Democratic backsliding, hate campaigns, state capture, homophobia and antigypsyism

This action is in response to the fact that since 2011, under the Orbán regime, a crude nativist politics combined with state capture, deep corruption and the steady dismantling of checks and balances proceeded apace. Without any effective hindrance from the Union for most of those years, the regime attacked press and academic freedoms; waged hate campaigns against refugees and migrants; systematically, and in defiance of European Court rulings, persistently engaged in egregious forms of anti-Roma discrimination; harassed civil society groups, and demonised legitimate opponents as traitors and enemies of the nation. 

Anti-LGBTI+ legislation introduced in 2021 prompted condemnation “in the strongest possible terms” from the European Parliament, for what it considered to be a systematic violation of EU values. Far from being an isolated incident, this bill was “part of a broader political agenda to break down democracy and the rule of law”, and constituted “another intentional and premeditated example of the gradual dismantling of fundamental rights in Hungary, where state-sponsored LGBTQI-phobia and disinformation campaigns have become tools for political censorship.” 

In 2022, the European Parliament declared that Hungary could no longer be considered to be a full-democracy. The resolution deplored the lack of decisive EU action which contributed to the emergence of a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”, and the inability of the Council to make meaningful progress to counter democratic backsliding. 

In April 2024, the European Parliament condemned the adoption of the Protection of National Sovereignty Act and the establishment of the Sovereignty Protection Office (SPO), which has “extensive powers and a strict system of surveillance and sanctions, which fundamentally violates standards of democracy [...] and breaches multiple EU laws.” The resolution also deplored the Commission’s decision to release up to €10.2 billion frozen EU funds, which prompted Parliament to appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and concluded that come July, the Hungarian Government “will not be able to credibly fulfil” its role at the helm of the Council.

A bad week for Orbán

The news that the European Court of Justice has ordered Hungary to pay a €200m fine for its abuse of the rights of asylum seekers comes at the end of a bad week for Viktor Orbán. Despite Fidesz receiving its worst ever result in a European Parliament election, Orbán’s post-election victory bluster was par for the course: To sum up the results of the European Parliament elections, we can send the following telegram to Brussels: ‘Migration. Stop. Gender. Stop. War. Stop. Soros. Stop. Brussels. Stop.’ 

This latest court ruling delivered a clear message that the EU institutions have had enough of Orbán’s “cynically bonkers Europhobia”, and that thrashing fundamental values comes with a hefty price tag. In addition to the €200m fine, the Luxembourg court also ordered Budapest to pay €1m a day until it complies with EU laws guaranteeing refugees the right to claim asylum inside Hungarian borders. The fine was higher than that sought by the European Commission for Hungary’s “unprecedented and exceptionally serious infringement of EU law”. According to the judges “aggravating circumstances”, including the repeat behaviour contributed to the severity of the fine.

Unabashed and delusional racism

One measure of just how extreme Orbán’s nativist brand of politics had become was the cut of his admirers from the ranks of far-right extremists across Europe. In an open letter following the 2018 election landslide, Renaud Camus described the Prime Minister as the very embodiment of European Resistance and of a clear refusal to submit to the Great Replacement, and Hungary as a flag bearer of European Resistance.

In Orbán’s notorious 2022 ‘race-mixing’ speech, he declared that a battle was in progress between the two halves of Europe: a ‘mixed-race world’ in which European peoples are mixed with those arriving from outside Europe: “And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate … in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: we are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. This is why we have always fought: we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race.” 

The remarks prompted U.S. envoy against anti-Semitism Deborah Lipstadt to express her deep alarm at the prime minister's "use of rhetoric that clearly evokes Nazi racial ideology."  More shocking was the resignation of one of Orbán’s closest advisers, who described the speech as openly racist, “worthy of Goebbels”, and appealing to "the most bloodthirsty race haters.”

At home, Orbán described Hungarian Roma as a historical burden, and following a court case on school segregation in 2020, made the move favoured by white supremacists and nativists worldwide by portraying the ethnic majority as the victims: "Non-Roma began to feel that they had to back down and apologize, despite being the majority. They feel like they are in a hostile environment in their own homeland." He warned that the majority needs to feel at home: “It cannot happen that in order for a minority to feel at home, the majority must feel like strangers in their own towns, villages, or homeland. This is not acceptable. And as long as I am the prime minister, nothing of the sort will happen. Because this is the country of the natives, our country...”  

Back in 2018, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called out Orbán as one of Europe’s racists who have “cast off any sense of embarrassment”, and described another speech by Orbán, where he said "we do not want our colour... to be mixed in with others" as “a clear-cut statement of racism … an insult to every African, Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin American woman, man and child.” The Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described Orbán’s racist rhetoric as ‘increasingly delusional’, and his verdict was that “the increasingly authoritarian – though democratically elected – Viktor Orbán is a racist and xenophobe.”  


The ERRC supports the values of freedom, fundamental rights, and democracy for all Hungarian citizens and those who dwell within its borders, without distinction. By the standards set by the European Parliament in successive resolutions, it is beyond any doubt that the actions, policies, and rhetoric of this regime amount to a deliberate sustained and systematic effort to undermine those European values set out in Article 2: “of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” 

For the ERRC, participation in events organised by the Hungarian Presidency would amount to collusion and complicity with this “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”. The ERRC urges other civil organisations to join this boycott of the forthcoming presidency: first, to signal collective disdain for those who would abuse the rights of others and undermine democracy; and second, to express solidarity with human right defenders and all who have been targeted by this regime.


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