“Hey Europe, sorry about my Prime Minister !!” read one of the placards as Hungarians thronged the streets of Budapest in early January to protest about the new constitution introduced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party. The “Viktator”, as he has been dubbed by his opponents, is accused of threatening Hungarian democracy and attempting to give himself a stranglehold on power.
But the new constitution is only the latest of Orban’s projects to attract a storm of criticism at home and abroad. In January 2011, his government introduced a controversial new media law, which was widely criticised for restricting freedom of the press in Hungary. This time, legislation introduced as part of or along with the new constitution includes a bank law which has been condemned by both the EU and the IMF as jeopardising the independence of Hungary’s central bank, and changes to the judiciary, data protection and election systems, amongst other things, which are provoking concern.
On 17th January 2012, Jose Manuel Barroso stated that the European Commission was starting legal proceedings against Orban’s government, as several aspects of the new constitution breach EU law. The Commission have given Fidesz one month to respond.
But it must also be noted that despite all this, the keen footballer and father-of-five is far from universally unpopular in Hungary. 22nd January 2012 saw another demonstration take place in Budapest, but on this occasion it was in support of Orban and his party, and it was the EU that was the subject of derisive banners.
So whether you believe that Orban is taking necessary measures to reform a country in crisis, or that he is systematically destroying its democracy, he is certainly going to be a prominent figure on the EU scene for some time yet. In his website biography, it states that he is “committed to an independent and democratic Hungary.” The latter point, at least, would certainly seem to be a matter for some debate.