Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban presents his annual state-of-the-nation speech in Budapest, February 22, 2013. The text reads: Hungary doing better.

© 2013 REUTERS/ Bernadett Szabo

Hungary has held yet another repressive country up as a model to be emulated, widening the ever-increasing gulf between its values and that of the European Union.

Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban praised Azerbaijan and its president Ilham Aliyev for respecting “traditional values” – despite Azerbaijan’s abysmal human rights record – saying that Azerbaijan and Hungary were both heading in “the right direction.”

The reality could hardly be further from the truth. Azerbaijan has arrested human rights defenders, journalists, and political and social media activists on spurious criminal charges in a concerted attempt to silence critical voices.

Since 2010, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party has propelled Hungary into a downward authoritarian spiral by undermining respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights, placing curbs on media freedom and pressuring civil society. As an EU member state, Hungary’s actions are contrary to fundamental EU values.

Orban clearly admires countries with oppressive human rights agendas. In an infamous speech in July he introduced “illiberal democracy” as a model for Hungarian state building, citing Russia, China, and Turkey as positive examples.

Orban’s praise for one of the EU’s most abusive neighbors is more than embarrassing. Flattering and encouraging the EU’s authoritarian neighbors undermines EU efforts to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law around the world. The EU has repeatedly made clear that respect for human rights is a core component of its relations with Azerbaijan. Why should Baku take that seriously when an EU member state’s leader says the opposite?

For the sake of the EU’s values at home and its credibility abroad, Hungary should be taken to task. But the EU response so far has been weak. While the European Parliament recently held a hearing on the state of democracy and rule of law in Hungary, the European Commission has said little about recent worrying developments and the Council of the European Union has been silent.

The new commission should make it a priority to safeguard the values of the EU, in foreign as well as internal policy, and take action against member states that breach them.