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French Leader Should Press Hungary’s Orban on Rule of Law

Macron Should Call Hungary Out on Common Values and Human Rights

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive at an EU summit in Salzburg, Austria on September 20, 2018. © 2018 Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images

Later this week, French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Paris for his first bilateral visit in France. This is an excellent opportunity for the French president to deliver on the strong messages on rule of law and common values he voiced during a recent address at the Council of Europe.

Respect for rule of law and human rights has come increasingly under attack in Hungary under Orban’s nine-year rule. By hijacking democratic institutions, putting roughly 85 percent of the media under direct or indirect government control, demonizing and criminalizing activities of civil society organizations, abusing and starving migrants and asylum seekers, attacking academic institutions, and using increasingly xenophobic and homophobic rhetoric, the Orban government is about as far as can be from respecting and safeguarding the common European values president Macron stressed during his October 1 speech in Strasbourg. “Our strength in the face of global change lies not in weakening but in defending our rights and freedoms,” Macron said.

In Hungary’s state of one-party dominance, the government has tinkered with electoral laws to secure the ruling party’s hold on power. The EU's anti-fraud agency in September pointed to widespread misuse of EU funds and corruption, which benefits an elite close to the government.

In September 2019, the European Parliament triggered an article 7 process – a political sanctions mechanism – against the Hungarian government due to the risk to rule of law in the country. It’s now up to individual member states to take this process forward.

In his meeting with Orban, Macron should make it clear that breaches of rule of law and fundamental rights come at a cost by linking EU structural funds – of which Hungary is one of the largest per capita recipients – to the respect for rule of law. Macron owes it to French citizens – ensuring their hard-earned tax money doesn’t support repression and rights abuses – and to Hungarians who deserve to enjoy the rights and freedoms the president spoke so passionately about in his Council of Europe address.

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