Subtitles prepared by human
Formally it's a democracy; in constitutional reality it's an authoritarian state. It's like in the theater. The setting is democratic, but the actors are not democrats. It's a one-man-democracy. A <i>Fuehrer</i> democracy. Hungary is an undermined democracy. It's a boring parliamentarian democracy. At this moment Hungary is not a dictatorship, but we are moving step by step in that direction. When I say dictatorship, I mean the opposite of democracy. Never has a democracy failed due to an excess of freedom. No one could imagine that anyone would dare take a step backwards. It just wasn't in their minds. The dictator is coming. Dictator! He's always greeted him that way, for many years. He openly says what everyone is thinking. The term dictator makes no difference, I mean we can deal with it. And as long as that's the case, he does what he wants.
And he knows it. This is a declaration of bankruptcy, when the leaders of the EU can do nothing against a dictator in their own ranks. What good is the EU then? In the summer of 2020, the heads of government in the EU come to Brussels for a special summit. Their objective is to pass the coronavirus recovery fund. Time is of the essence. Especially for the states in southern Europe. At the same time, the EU's budget for the next seven years is to be set. More than a trillion euros are at stake. A massive undertaking. A few days earlier, Germany took over the rotating EU Council Presidency. For the German chancellor, this is also about her legacy. Will she fight for Europe as an "area of justice" at this summit? Just like she said she would? Germany and many other countries are pushing for the disbursement of funds to be linked to a rule of law mechanism in the future. It is a matter of respecting democratic standards.
The fundamental values of the EU. The time had come for the debate about the connection of money and values. We cannot accept someone taking money, and at the same time destroying the foundation of our values. We need to make a link there. Money should only be given if you play by the rules. European solidarity? Of course – but only under certain conditions. The new clause is aimed primarily at member states such as Hungary. But Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wants to prevent this rule of law mechanism at all costs. He blocks negotiations from the start. Orbán said: "You now need to transfer a lot of money to Italy. You're welcome to do that. But I'll only agree if this rule of law mechanism is weakened." If you look at the social and economic situation in Spain, Italy, Greece, France or in other countries, then you know how badly they need the money. That's where my Italian colleague impressed me. He said: "We can't counterbalance money against our values."
But that is exactly what happens. Because with his objection, Orbán is forcing values to be questioned in the first place. Suddenly, it's rule of law or corona aid. They would like to reach something, which is not good quality enough in our understanding. So, if there is a break, it's because of them not because of us. Orbán has everyone in a bind. And he knows it. Now you can say: "No, that's non-negotiable!" Then there's no pandemic aid, and we'll have more deaths in Italy. Extortion tactics come into play. From the beginning. That is because Orbán can easily keep everyone else in check. He cleverly exploits a flaw in the EU-structure. There are decisions that require unanimity. Hungary included. The agreement must therefore also be accepted by Hungary. Otherwise there is no agreement. Germany now had to take on this new role.
By then, our main job was to kind of hold it together. And the chancellor would be perceived as first among equals. She is also expected to contribute in a way that these negotiations are successfully concluded. From the moment that Merkel, as President of the Council of the EU, indicated that in her opinion, this issue was no longer the top priority, it was clear that Germany had given up its previous demands. Suddenly, it was more important to come to an agreement at all. The German Chancellor must back down and make concessions. Because Orbán holds his line to the end. He succeeds in significantly weakening demands for the rule of law. A compromise that confuses everyone. In the end there was this crude formulation that was a mystery to many. In the end, they needed a solution to keep up appearances. But it also led to misinterpretations.
Regarding the rule of law, the July compromise is very soft. It's unbelievable. Macron says one thing, Rutte another, Rutte says one thing, Orbán another. Everyone can interpret it individually. Any attempt, which tried to make a connection between rule of law and budget was hacked, was successfully rejected. And we not just managed to get a good package of money, but we defended the pride of our nations. That he could present himself that way did not come out of the blue. He got his way on that one. The results from the summit bear his hallmark. And that he is able to basically have all 26 of the rest do his bidding, is impressive, one might say. But it's just scary. Did Orbán really prevail? Or is he just posing as a winner? The text is deliberately ambiguous.
But it leaves room for a rule of law mechanism. Just as the German Chancellor wanted it from the very start. The rule of law mechanism did not exist before. For the first time, a connection was made between money and values. You can't make that go away anymore. But how sharp will this sword be? It's still pretty blunt. Orbán can say, "I've won", but it's there. A few months later in the European Parliament. Michael Roth, Germany's Minister of State for Europe, is leading the negotiations for the German Council Presidency. Together with the members of parliament, he now needs to work out the details of the rule of law mechanism that had almost been prevented. Negotiations are tedious. As the Council Presidency, we are obliged to find a compromise. So, I think it's a good thing that all institutions, the Council and Parliament, are taking this with great seriousness. We now have a window of opportunity that must not slam shut. It is a mechanism designed to protect the rule of law throughout Europe.
How sharp will this sword be in the end? Time is running out. The pressure created by Orbán's "No" seeps into the room. The German Minister for Europe senses it and passes it on: Those who don't agree are blocking corona aid. I find it downright brutal, that, for example, Spanish and Italian MEPs, can be put under pressure by saying: "If you do not agree to this now, then the people of our country, the people you are responsible for, will not receive reconstruction aid." It is a deliberate ploy to put the Parliament under pressure to act. That's what Orbán wants above all, that's what Kaczyński wants, that's what a lot of people want who don't want a rule of law mechanism. Of course, they want both the media and the public to put pressure on us: "You're the spoilers. It's your fault the money won't flow." We must not bow to this pressure.
The EU has been at odds with the Hungarian Prime Minister for some time. Orbán and his FIDESZ party have been in power since 2010. Even then there were conflicts with the European Parliament. In my many encounters with him, I felt only one thing: The room resonates with his will to power. When he had the chance to turn the country into a FIDESZ state, he used it without hesitation. The change of power follows a clear strategy. He had planned for 15, 20 years. He said all this back in 2009: "We only need to win once, but we need to win very clearly." And that's when he decided to never again relinquish this power. It is a designed revolution. Orbán aims to overturn the political system in Hungary. From the ground up. In Parliament, he undermines the very foundation of the state:
the Constitution. His two-thirds majority makes Orbán unassailable. The Constitution is amended according to his views. Without notice. It's the power of the strongest that counts. In the campaign he didn't say a word about wanting a new constitution. In 2011, he passed a new constitution, without referendum and discussion. All this was set up in a flash. And of course, it provoked conflict with the European Union immediately. The European Commission is at alert. Nevertheless, the Commissioner for Justice can do nothing. All of a sudden, national experts, representatives, ministers, Members of the EU Parliament, all came to the Commission to talk to us about the new Hungarian constitution. That's a little unusual. The more we dealt with it and looked at the regulations in draft,
the more we saw that this was not just a simple constitutional reform, but that there were fundamental problems with this amendment. Therefore, at an early stage, the European Commission and Vice-President Viviane Reding, who had just become the new Commissioner for Justice, pointed out, that the content in the first drafts was not acceptable for the European Union. The European Commission is the guardian of the treaties. If there are conflicts with member states, they must be resolved here. The Constitution could be amended, because the constitutional majority was achieved. But for a European democracy, the content was a real step backwards and very startling. Orbán is striving to acquire absolute power. To achieve that, he needs to control the judiciary and remove disagreeable judges. But Orbán wants to maintain a façade of democracy.
He simply lowers the retirement age, sending hundreds of judges into retirement. As a lawyer, you realize this goes beyond just a more efficient pension system. Apparently, this drastic lowering of the retirement age aims at removing current judges from their office to bring a new generation of judges into office as quickly as possible. There is no chapter on how courts should be equipped in the EU, on how long judges shall be in office. Up until now, the EU has never had such regulations. You can read all the treaties, all the legal acts of the EU, there is no instrument to combat it. Orbán can undermine the EU without breaking the rules. The president of the commission at the time puts a positive spin on the matter. He has no alternative. Until resourceful EU lawyers come up with a trick to stop Orbán's judicial restructuring. The EU doesn't have the instruments to govern there. Therefore, we need to focus on our powers.
And so, at that time, the EU could only state age discrimination as a means against this blatant attack on the rule of law. A key politician on the Commission said at the time, that's a bit like getting Al Capone for accounting fraud and tax evasion. In 2010, Orbán, the newcomer, appears confident in Brussels. He can afford to. Democracy must be protected every day. But when the enemies of democracy systematically create structures at the highest level to undermine the rule of law, we have no means. The European Union is like a house with 27 rooms. Suddenly you realize that the horror lives in one room. But that wasn't the case ten years ago. They've added houses, apartments and rooms. And everyone was happy, democratic and constitutional. Suddenly you realize, there is horror in the house.
What do we do now? In the European Parliament, battles of words erupt with the Hungarian Prime Minister on several occasions. Orbán never dodges and confronts the debates. When he attempts to bring the media under his control in 2011, Parliament sounds the alarm. I'll tell you something very simple, Mr. Orbán. There is no such thing as balanced information. Do you think Mr. Nixon thought the Watergate information was balanced? Of course not! And do you think Mr. Bush thought the information about Abu Ghraib was balanced? Of course not! Journalism must always be uncomfortable! And it is uncomfortable and it hurts sometimes. Do you understand that Europe emerged as a reaction against totalitarianism? And that the basis of democracy and freedom is freedom of speech? Never has a democracy failed due to an excess of freedom.
Democracies have failed, when freedom has been restricted, Mr. Orbán! The debate is heated. Some begin to realize: This is about more than just an unpopular head of government. For the European Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, the conflict with Orbán reveals a fundamental design flaw. There is something wrong with the blueprint of the European Union. That's when I realized I don't have the instruments. It's not right for someone to trample on the democratic rights, on the entrenched and established rights of the citizens. And I don't have any instruments. At this point, there was really only dismay and astonishment that such a thing is possible in a democratic constitutional state. Do not forget that Hungary only joined the European Union in 2004. Everyone had to assume that Hungary would follow the principles that the country itself had set as a member of the EU
and that are ratified by the treaty, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, that a member of this community stands by its principles. "It's all smooth sailing from here!" That was the thought of the fathers of the fundamental laws. Everybody thought that if a state has solved all the problems, before it becomes a member of the Union, then surely, once it's in the family, it will continue to improve on that. No one could imagine that anyone would dare take a step backwards. It just wasn't in their minds. In the summer of 1989, before the fall of the communist regime, the Hungarian nation gathered to commemorate the heroes of the 1956 popular uprising. It was the birth of Viktor Orbán as a political figure. There were 200,000, 250,000 people.
And there was a surprise, when suddenly a young man, who spoke on behalf of the younger generation, went beyond what the others had said. He also raised the demand for immediate negotiations on the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. If we don't lose sight of the ideas of '56 we can elect a government which initiates immediate negotiations about the withdrawal of Russian troops. Only if we find the courage to want this can we complete the will of our revolution. No one believes that the party-state will change on its own. The others who appeared on stage were irritated. Because that wasn't part of what was agreed upon. He didn't show his text beforehand.
He was that young bearded man who raised demands on behalf of the younger generation. For many, including myself, it seemed that it was too radical. And that, of course, was his trademark. In the summer of '89, Viktor Orbán is a young, bearded man full of ideals. An ambitious social climber from the rural provinces studying in Budapest. He founds the FIDESZ party, the League of Young Democrats. He was a liberal, after all. He was Vice President of the Liberal International. It was a different Orbán. He left the Liberals because in 1993 he came to realize that his young party, the FIDESZ party, had no chance there. He left at that time for reasons of <i>realpolitik</i> and power politics.
He went from the left of center, to the right of center. He's actually a renegade. Viktor Orbán – the apostate. A renegade, a radical. A man who can burn all bridges behind him. In 2014, he surprises the EU with a new concept. He calls it "illiberal democracy." Illiberal democracy, if you talk to him he'll tell you pretty clearly: "Your decadent, gay-ish Western model of life is the opposite of what I want. I want family, nation, fatherland." You can tell him a hundred times: "That is the 19th century!" He will say: "No, it's the 21st century!" It must be said that Orbán has never hidden his actions. He's been very open about it right from the start. He has said what his ambitions are. And he has said that his model is very different from that of the EU.
To me, the buzzword of illiberal democracy... is ideologically unacceptable. Because a democracy must be liberal and open per se. It must be capable of discussion, it must be capable of compromise. This expression of illiberal democracy... There is no such thing. There's democracy and illiberalism, whatever that is. I also believe that a "liberal," "social" democracy is daring. Democracy is democracy. It need not be supported by accompanying words. But illiberal democracy, that's the path he wants to take. That cannot be tolerated. It means nothing more but to shackle democracy, to shape democracy in a way that the preservation of power of the government, or the party, or the person at the top will be preserved.
Democracy in shackles. Pluralism in a stranglehold. The state in the hands of one man. Fact finding. Together with his assistant, Daniel Freund, a Member of the European Parliament for the German Green Party, travels to Budapest. He wants to meet with the new mayor of Budapest, who has been in office since December 2019. For Daniel Freund, this is a glimmer of hope in the long-simmering conflict with Hungary. Because the mayor is an opposition figure. An avowed opponent of Orbán. The two know each other. Karácsony is also a member of the Green party. Daniel Freund hopes for strategic advice for the European Parliament's negotiations around the planned rule of law mechanism. What is the real state of democracy in Hungary? Why is it so important for the EU to put up some resistance? The news is sobering. The government is doing all they can to curb the leeway of the municipalities. To do this, they deprive them of funds. You can't govern without money.
There's a local tax, which we have to pay to the state. The government abruptly quadrupled it. Along with the economic losses due to the pandemic, this can lead our city into bankruptcy. But it is not only the fragile opposition in Budapest that is being financially sapped by the government. Karácsony sees oppression elsewhere as well. Look at the media, he says. Daniel Freund visits Klubrádio. The only remaining independent radio station in Hungary. Here, he first enters the stage himself. He reports on the ongoing negotiations over the radio. We are negotiating at the moment the biggest next seven-year budget, the corona recovery fund. Now is the moment to ensure that all this additional money does not disappear in corruption. We as the European Parliament, a large majority
from the conservatives to the very left, we all want this. This is not a question of geography, it's not east against west, it's not one political family against another. We are all united on the importance of rule of law, independence of justice and media freedom. For the time being, there are still free interviews like this. Uncensored, unrestricted. But for how long? During his conversation with the managing director, Daniel Freund learns: The license of Klubrádio is to be revoked. By the Hungarian law it is possible to continue for another seven years based on the decision of the media council. The media council is not obliged to reason why it gives or doesn't give the license. That is clearly a political decision. I don't think that the media council itself makes the decisions. They fulfill orders. Independent media in Hungary. It does exist.
But it is subject to arbitrary rules. For no reason at all. There's room, there are open frequencies. There's no real competition or anything. Their frequency was simply taken away because they are not wanted. They don't want them to continue as an independent radio station in Hungary. The last independent radio station in Hungary. A democracy in shackles? After all, Orbán came to power in free elections. Does that mean the EU should stay out of it? Do election results really reflect the free will of citizens? Can they form an opinion? Do they know what is happening in their country? Official election observers say, the elections were free, but not fair. Because there is virtually no space in the media for the opposition. Csaba Lukacs knows what the media in Hungary can do. And what they cannot. The journalist has established an independent newspaper. I was working for 20 years for the biggest newspaper in Hungary.
The day after the last elections in Hungary, I got an e-mail from the editor-in-chief that everybody must come cause he had an announcement. We came to the newspaper, everybody was there, everybody was excited and the boss said: "Tomorrow will be the last day that we are publishing a newspaper of 80 years old". At that point, we realized that more than 100 journalists were fired. Newspapers closing. This happens all over Europe. But not because the government is causing it behind the scenes. That newspaper was a conservative newspaper. When FIDESZ won the elections in 2010, they started to give us orders but we tried to be as independent as possible. That was a sin in the eye of the government and they tried to kill us as much as possible. After the elections, when the owner realized that for him, the game is over, because FIDESZ won again with two thirds
and there will be no chance to survive, he made a deal with the government and stopped the newspaper within one day. There are no raids and no journalists ending up in jail either. It's more subtle than that but it's everywhere. FIDESZ did that trick two times in history within two years. They stopped the left-handed newspaper and after one year they stopped the right-handed as well. It's like being in a protected reserve. The media are given a run. But only as far as the fence. The government watches over the enclosure. It is anything but true pluralism. Scott Griffen of the independent International Press Institute in Vienna has investigated the situation in Hungary. In Hungary, we are dealing with the biggest press freedom crisis in the EU, but this is not China. This is not a story of censorship of all citizens and of all news. This is not Turkey. This is not journalists being jailed or arrested.
This is a much different kind of system. It's a much cleverer system. The system is ingenious. Because it operates without overtly visible violence. What happens behind the scenes remains cloaked in darkness. Once Orbán came into power in 2010, the goal was to ensure total regulatory control of the FIDESZ party over the media council, which oversees the media environment. And basically, the plan was to slowly push out independent publishers, especially foreign publishers, German ones, from the Hungarian media environment and ensure that their media properties are given to Orbán-allied oligarchs. And this had the impact that over time, obviously, the editorial lines of all of these media were flipped to become pro-government media outlets. Magyar Nemzet, the newspaper Csaba Lukacs worked for, was closed after 80 years. Just like that. Many of the remaining newspapers were brought in line. But the control mechanisms were tightened even further.
It turned out that this wasn't enough for Orbán. He decided to create a foundation called KESMA. And in November 2018, all of these pro-government oligarchic owners actually donated their media properties to this foundation. The end result of this is that you have hundreds of media outlets in Hungary which are owned by a single foundation. And this foundation coordinates content among this pro-government media empire. There is no criticism. You can give €100 or €500 to anybody who finds a critical word about Viktor Orbán in the regime newspapers. Doesn't exist. No criticism in the controlled media. What about the few independents? How do they work? Together with the journalists from his former editorial office,
Csaba Lukacs has founded a new newspaper. They can act freely but the political system defines where their freedom stops. You can be oppositional, you can be independent, but you have to respect the rules. To not write about the Orbán family, to not make investigative journalism and to be like a smooth opposition, controlled opposition. Controlled Opposition. Democracy in shackles. The new paper is moderate. But Csaba Lukacs was unable to locate a single printing house in Hungary willing to print his newspaper. There is a system of fear. The journalists now have their paper produced in Slovakia. Once a week it is taken across the border to Hungary. Like a newspaper in exile. We are not a controlled opposition yet. But at this moment they think that we are too small and we are not too dangerous to them. If we became bigger or if we had a bigger effect on the society they would probably try to do as much as possible to stop us.
Like the city of Budapest, the media is being drained financially. Because the advertising business is miserable for all, 80 percent of the ads are paid for by the state. Everyone is drip-fed. Only the government determines who is put into a coma and who is allowed to survive. The makers of Magyar Hang are also kept on life support in this way and are thus controlled. At the regime newspaper, a whole page of ads is paid for by the state. At Magyar Hang this is limited to two columns. There is freedom of the press in a technical sense. It's about creating this sense of plausible deniability. So that if someone accuses Orbán of repressing press freedom, he'll say: "Here's a critical media outlet that's saying nasty things about me. How can you accuse me of repressing press freedom?" But that's not the point. The point is that the overall media environment is heavily tilted towards FIDESZ and Orbán, and that these critical media outlets exist in order to prove that point,
that critical media still exists to be able to tell Brussels, Washington or whoever, "hey, don't come attack us. Look at all these few examples that exist." We all know that the institutional framework, the media situation in Hungary is perfectly fine. That's why we say, media pluralism in Hungary is a lot more provided actually than in any Western European country. But diversity fights for its survival every day. Magyar Hang, the "Voice of Hungary", has risen to become the highest-circulation weekly newspaper within a short period of time. Their middle of the road course finds its readership. Especially in conservative circles in rural Hungary. But finding new subscribers there is extremely difficult. In Hungary the distribution of the newspaper for subscribers is made by the state company, the Hungarian post. And day by day we are receiving phone calls or e-mails where future subscribers are asking: "Okay, I would subscribe, but are you sure that the local mayor, the party leader, or the government person wouldn't know that I'm a subscriber?"
Nobody knows what's happening with the list of subscribers, we could not tell them that we are 100% sure that FIDESZ or the government, or the local mayor would not know, if you became a subscriber. So the people are afraid that they will be punished because they are reading an independent newspaper. Even those who want to make it on their own can hardly loosen the shackles. Because the anti-freedom spirit of the government has contaminated society almost entirely. A silent poison. We are not in jail like in Turkey, we are not shot like in Russia. We could write what we want, of course, but there is economical and political pressure. If we are asking something from the government, we never receive an answer, it's almost impossible to get data from the government, if we are making a mistake, they are suing us immediately. We had like more than 20 juristic stuff. We won all, but one day it could happen that we are losing one.
And if we would be fined with 10 million forints we'd collapse. So Hungary is not a dictatorship at this moment, but we are moving step by step in that direction. Viktor Orbán, for all intends and purposes a dictator? In the middle of the European Union? No one obstructs his way. Flashback to 2015. Orbán feels safe. He has got political friends, especially in Germany. Horst Seehofer, Bavaria's Minister-President, is courting him. Orbán is needed. Orbán has allies, of course. Orbán took a very hard line on the migration issue in 2015. Many conservatives and non-conservatives feel sympathy for this position, without having to say it clearly. Orbán is doing the dirty work for them. When hundreds of thousands of refugees arrive in Europe in September 2015, Hungary initially holds them back with brutal force.
During the refugee crisis of 2015, Viktor Orbán pointed out that borders must be protected. Of course in his exaggerated and populist manner. But the point that we need to know what's going on at the external border, that was certainly necessary and also right. The closing of ranks with the Bavarian CSU party during the refugee crisis: For Orbán it is still paying off today. The restructuring of the political system in Hungary is ignored. We often discussed that with Horst Seehofer: "There's a change going on. Watch out!" He said: "No, he's just being attacked all the time." And then when Orbán spoke to the party board, suddenly some very conservative colleagues came up to me and said: "Well, Monika, that's not alright! Those comments, just no!" This delicate criticism does not resonate at the European level.
The Hungarian FIDESZ is part of the European People's Party, EPP. Here, Orbán is revered. Orbán's party secures the EPP's status as the largest political group in the European Parliament. It's about political offices, influence and power. CDU leader Merkel is holding back on open criticism of Orbán. But how steep can the price be to maintain the status quo? Quite a few are calling for FIDESZ to be expelled from the EPP. Us Luxembourgers in the Christian Social Party, we were of the opinion that we couldn't stay in the EPP, as Christian Democrats, with someone who makes such a mockery of the basic elements of our democracy. As Luxembourgers, we feel uncomfortable in a common party that is partially courting Orbán. Eventually, membership is suspended.
But Orbán's FIDESZ party remains part of the EPP. Although there is little overlap in values. I don't have a definitive solution yet. Because if the major parties, like the EPP, just shut everybody out, then eventually there will be a huge crowd that will say: "We will join forces against all of them." They will not be few. And Orbán is trying to do just that. There's a weighing of interests. If we kick him out, then the EPP will have a clean slate, but what will be gained in the matter? Isn't this perhaps the place to have a conversation even though we disagree? Because only with dialogue we can find compromise. Those were the considerations in terms of membership. The EPP cannot bring itself to exclude FIDESZ. It tolerates Orbán. Is power more important than values? It's embarrassing, it's wrong. And it doesn't hold up in the face of history. How will history judge what is happening in Hungary
at the beginning of the 21st century? The country is part of the European Union. What happens here concerns us all. Daniel Freund, the EU parliamentarian, on the road in Budapest. On research. He wants to visit a homeless shelter with a soup kitchen attached. It is run by Gábor Ivanyi, a Methodist minister. He presided over the marriage of Viktor Orbán and baptized his daughter. But since he has criticized his former companion's style of governing, he has fallen out of favor. It's friend or foe. The Orbán government denies him official status as a church. They are cutting off all public funds that should be going to him. And then, the first thing they do is turn off the gas, to a facility where 600 people are hospitalized, where they are living in shelters. This is risking their lives. Ever since he started to criticize the system and corruption, he's being systematically worked over by Orbán.
But is this nothing more than a personal feud between two men? Is it really any of our business? What does it have to do with the EU? The pastor stretches his protective cover over the disenfranchised. Since Orbán has been in power, homelessness is illegal in Hungary. This soup kitchen is the only refuge. It's about whether these people on the fringes of society, the poorest there are in Europe, whether they are sufficiently protected. Whether they have rights, whether they'll be taken along. Whether the money that we, as the EU, want to pay for these weakest of the weak actually reaches them in the end. Or whether the Orbán system is preventing the money from getting there. Like here in this soup kitchen. When we talk about an abstract construct like a rule of law mechanism that's what it comes down to in practice. To systematically exclude the weakest members of society. They are screwed over and do not count. The EU should make it clear that it has nothing in common
with drawing-room Nazis and drawing-room racists, who are not physically exterminating anyone but by all their measures make the lives of many people impossible. 600,000 Hungarians have already abandoned their country. More than after the 1956 uprising. People without permanent residence just don't fit in the political system. Their poverty makes them illegal beings. That's upsetting. And it's Christians who say that. This sort of Christianity, it's hypocrisy. It's a disgrace to the term "Christian." To be a Christian is to be Christlike. Political Christianity in Hungary has nothing to do with the Bible. It's inhumane. It's not in keeping with Christian values. It's inhumane in every way. Viktor Orbán, the apostate. The man who shows no mercy to his critics.
Can he ever be a reliable partner? What values does he stand for? He is prepared to sacrifice others without hesitation. His entire life guided by a single principle: attack. He relishes it. He's truly alive, when he's on the attack. And the best mode of defense is a well-timed attack. The majority in Hungary insists on its claims to absoluteness. It is the maxim of Viktor Orbán. He calls his will the will of the nation. This world view requires enemies. The regime finds the perfect villain: George Soros. In the run-up to the 2018 elections, the city is plastered with incendiary slogans. He was described as the devil, as the person who is a traitor and is out there to harm Hungarians. The government created huge posters with antisemitic overtones and posted that all over Budapest. It became very obvious that this was a persecution campaign against him.
And also, he was made part of the political campaign that the government waged for re-election that happened in 2018. Well, Mr. Soros made himself a political personality. It's not us, it's him himself who declared that he is the political opposition to Mr. Orbán's government, to FIDESZ. Mr. Soros is using billions of euros and dollars every year. Then obviously the shadow of political activism is all over the Soros empire, and that is the Open Society Institute, the university and all the organizations that are receiving funding from Mr. Soros' network. George Soros is a billionaire, who amassed his fortune as a hedge fund manager. In the early 90s, he recalls his home of Budapest, from which he was forced to flee as a child with his parents. They were Jewish. Soros wants to give something back to the country of his birth. He wants to usher in a new age of democracy. Of one thing he is certain: democracies are vulnerable constructs.
Democracy, an open society, only survives if it's tested, it's constantly in danger of falling apart. And there must be some people who'll fight to preserve it. In 1991, he founded the Central European University for Social Sciences, CEU for short. "Good governance" is taught there, as are the principles of the rule of law. George Soros never bought in to the happy story that it would be easy after capitalism and democracy came to Eastern Europe. Transitioning into a society where you have liberal democratic education is a big step. His financial clout accords Soros with great esteem. And influence, which he uses to great effect for democratization. All around the world. In 2016, he donates a new, opulent campus building to Budapest. It boasts a glass façade and it thus transparent.
Just like the systems and causes Soros advocates for. He fights for pluralism, an open society. Mr. Soros and his organization, or framework, has a clear political goal, they are going for it, there is lots of money behind, and you cannot be naïve to presume that that money is not trying to find its way to make decisions, to influence, and that is, to successfully influence decision-makers. It's not that we teach democracy. The idea was not just to teach democracy to students, but to teach students how to exist, how to function in a democratic context. In a context of open dialogue. So the idea was not to sort of push an ideological point, but to teach a mechanism, a way to function in democratic societies. However, this approach is seen as meddling from abroad. In the wake of the anti-Soros campaign, parliament passes a new law regarding what constitutes a university. The new arbitrary, bureaucratic regulation
is nearly impossible to meet for the Central European University. Under the ruling of parliament that every fifth year there is a supervision of the higher educational system, including foreign universities and institutions, all other institutions could fall in, and that is, could follow those guidelines that are in the law, except Central European University. It was stunning, first of all we were surprised. The government had not given much indication that this had been in the cards. So, we were surprised and appalled. This was a total shock to us. This university had been working in this city for 25 years completely legally. And it had been reaccredited several times by the Hungarian authorities as well. It was checked on a regular basis by the Hungarian educational authorities. There had been no complaints against the workings of the university. In 2017 he suddenly introduced legislation that said: "You can't continue to operate in Hungary unless you have an agreement with me."
And we said: "Wait a minute, that's a change of the rules." We have around 21 foreign educational institutions in this country. Everybody could follow the rules and follows the rules, except CEU. That's a lesson not to us but for CEU. The new regulation is merely a pretense and everyone knows it. 80,000 people hit the streets to protest this kind of despotism. Signals of support arrive from across Europe, but they remain mere words. I've had more European leaders come to CEU and say, "we deeply sympathize with your situation. We deeply support academic freedom", I've had more of those speeches than I've had hot dinners. And none of it has made any difference whatever. Over the course of the election campaign, Hungary isolates itself more and more. In a campaign speech, Orbán takes tacit aim at George Soros, the billionaire Jew. He does not operate in the open, but rather in secret. Not honest, but unprincipled.
Not nationally, but internationally. He does not believe in work. He speculates with money. He has no home, but thinks the whole world belongs to him. Hungary must be protected against alleged attacks from abroad. The Prime Minister presents himself as the savior. His nationalistic slogans bear fruit. As he was able to get the national media to fall in line and has perfected his system, he is once again reelected in 2018. The third time in a row. The minute the pressure was off, he walked away from the agreement. We wanted an agreement because we wanted to stay. Orbán walked away and said: "We've got an agreement, but I'm not going to sign it." And he didn't sign it because he wanted to win an election. We're the first university since the 1930s to be forced out of a European member state. So it was a bit of a shock. The decision is final, effective immediately. The Central European University must vacate Budapest.
Within a few days time. An ultimatum is issued. We were rendered illegal. And the key point is the Europeans did nothing. And don't misunderstand me. I'm fine, the CEU will be fine. It's not about us, it's about academic freedom in Europe. It's the kind of thing they do in Minsk, not in a European Union that is supposed to believe in academic freedom, human rights, etc. I'm angry about it, I hope you understand, not because of CEU, because CEU has the resources to survive. Nothing will stop this university. But what it says about Europe is very troubling to me and depressing. The CEU is by no means an isolated occurrence. The academic freedom of several Hungarian universities has been severely restricted. Most recently, the directors of the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest are stripped of their power.
Students occupy the campus for months. Freedom of expression: a prized commodity that in Hungary is in increasingly short supply. The CEU has relocated to Vienna and will construct a new campus. The relocation cost 200 million euros. But it's about so much more than just money. Our university has got Hungarians leaving Budapest to come to Vienna, because they can't work freely in their own country. It's not as if we're foreigners. I'm married to a Hungarian. Most of my faculty are Hungarian. They've been forced to leave their country so they can teach freely in another country. This is just ridiculous. The university has begun fighting the new Hungarian Higher Education Act in front of the European Court of Justice. They are there to win back the right to do what is taken for granted in Europe: To engage in the free exchange of ideas, to teach freely. It is the highest court in Europe, the most powerful body in the EU.
We won at the European Court of Justice. We didn't just win, we won completely. But we got the judgement two and a half years late. In English, we say "justice delayed is justice denied". I don't believe that. I think whenever you get justice, it's good. But the reality is that Orbán has won the political victory, which is we're not in Budapest. And it's a bitter, bitter fact for us. Democracies require constitutional courts. But is it not an absolute mockery when such courts must be called upon to enforce common sense? What good is an arbitration ruling if Orbán loses in a court of law, but is nevertheless able to reach his political goals? Three steps forward, two steps back, he's perfected that. This man has a clear concept and is very successful with it. Always goes three steps forward, two steps back. But in the end, that equals one step forward. And I think that's what makes his policy successful. You won't stop people like Viktor Orbán with good words.
If it is not possible to enforce the existing mechanisms, and that is the responsibility of Heads of Government, he'll go on and on. The European Parliament is appalled at the ouster of the Central European University in the Fall of 2018. Members of parliament vow to fight to uphold European rights and values without having to turn to the highest authority. They initiate a procedure, the so-called Article 7 procedure. The EU treaties already provide that members who do not abide by the rules can be punished. This goes to the point of exclusion from the European Union. And that's Article 7, which is important, because it clarifies that this endangers the very foundations of the Union and we're prepared to do everything we can to eliminate that danger. That's where the Parliament came in with the Sargentini Report. Judith Sargentini. In the fall of 2018, the entire weight of the procedure lies on the shoulders of a single representative.
In her report, she lists all of the instances of misconduct in Hungary. It is a large catalog of breeches against the values of a constitutional state. Viktor Orbán is forced to face heavy criticism. But he is not concerned, he is toying with the system by continually pushing the envelope of what is legally permissible. He puts the EU to an incredibly difficult test. Hungary was always on the fringe. You never really knew. It was difficult to prove legally. Orbán always made sure that he was in a grey area where he could operate as he did. But always with a loophole to say: "We're correcting that now," or, "that's not what I meant at all." At one point, Mrs. Sargentini said: "We'll now prove in detail that it is not like that. That there are very real violations of the EU treaties." That was a bold move. The Article 7 procedure is internally dubbed "the atomic bomb". It is the strongest weapon the EU has at its disposal
to use against enemies from within. Taken to the extreme, it can lead to expulsion. But first, Parliament must take a vote if it should take effect. It was a great moment of parliamentarism. She stood up and said: "We voted on this, and we're going through with it. We'll stand up for democracy." There was a great sense of relief. Suddenly, Parliament was a living body. Something was happening here on a symbolic level that was moving and shifted majorities. With the move, the parliament has set a revolution into motion. For the first time in its history, it is putting a member state on trial. It's not only about Hungary, but about the protection of shared values. Now, these plans have to be implemented. But this takes place elsewhere, in the European Council. In the innermost circle of heads of state. They and they alone will decide if one of them will be sanctioned for breaching the principles of the rule of law.
It is a closed system, a blackbox. Closed off from public view. No one can monitor the decision-making process because it takes place in absolute secrecy. Something unfathomable in the eyes of EU representative Daniel Freund. Shouldn't everything in a democratic system be accountable? All Council negotiations take place behind closed doors and are not accessible anywhere. Which country represents which position? What the Federal Government decides in the European Council on our behalf, what they're blocking or pushing, is not accessible. That means you need the notes of someone sitting in the room with them. His team obtained the confidential protocol of the council meetings. One thing is clear: The Article 7 procedure initiated by the European Parliament has come to nothing. There were a grand total of two hearings on the matter. What happened to the previous momentum?
Who stymied its progress? Is there a failure in the system? The biggest problem is that no one is really fighting for it on the Council. All the exchanges that would be necessary to build up pressure on Hungary progress very slowly. In any case, Germany is not leading the way to ensure a healthy rule of law in Hungary. Apparently, the EU is unequipped to deal with challenges from the inside. There is simply a lack of instruments available to take on foes of democracy in its own ranks. At the very least, they are ineffective. There are flaws in their construction. Article 7 is in fact a very sharp instrument. But this sword will be blunted if it's subjected to a veto right. This unanimity in certain areas is a serious impediment to progress. It promotes those who are completely selfish, stubborn, nationalistic and blindly pursue their goal.
They can then prevail. With the principle of unanimity, Article 7 is not actionable. That's the problem. The EU is fighting a war on two fronts. In 2017, an Article 7 procedure is also to be initiated against Poland. The decision will be made in the European Council as well. Behind closed doors. Martin Schulz was present. I have defended the Article 7 strategy against Poland fiercely at the European Council in the presence of Orbán. I also said: "I expect you, heads of state and government, to enforce the principles of the European Union against those who violate them." Viktor Orbán said coolly: "You may decide whatever you want. I'll veto it." That wasn't so much directed at me but at the heads of government. A member state is saying: "I don't care about the outcome. I'm not interested in the process. No matter the outcome, I'll veto it."
I thought, this is where there should be an uprising. Nothing. And as long as that's the case, he does what he wants. And he knows it. Viktor Orbán is the unchallenged ruler of his country. And he is set to expand his powers even further. With financial means granted by the EU. On the road with Akos Hadhazy. An independent representative in Hungary's parliament, he has spent years tracking instances of corruption in Hungary. The government often argues that corruption exists in all EU countries. But there is no such network of corruption anywhere in the EU. This network consists of the government and the self-administration which distributes EU subsidies in Hungary. Felscút, Viktor Orbán's birthplace. It is an ideal place to study how EU funds are put to use. Hadhazy visits the home of Orbán's childhood friend.
Here, Orbán's system begins to make sense. A meticulously woven net, in which cronies stand to profit. His lifelong, loyal friend is a plumber by trade. Today, he's a billionaire. Ten years ago, Mr. Meszáros was just a simple gas fitter. He was a nobody. But he was a friend of Orbán's. And today he is the second richest man in Hungary. He's managed to win an extraordinary amount of public procurements for his companies. These projects, these public procurements, are EU-funded. They are financed by EU projects. For most public procurements we can prove how these processes, these procurements, are rigged. The sign only lists a few of the 200 companies that the former plumber now owns.
But the most absurd EU project this network has realized lies just a few meters away. It's a light rail. A toy train, pitched to the EU as a tourist attraction. According to a feasibility study, it's able to service several thousand passengers and will help jump start tourism. It runs from Felscút through the forest for six kilometers and ends in the middle of nowhere. The entire line was built with EU money. Only a few people a day use the train. You could dismiss it as a countryside folly, but it's this type of fraud that lies at the heart of Viktor Orbán's rule. There are dozens of such projects designed to siphon off EU funds, and to render his voters compliant in the process. It is a very simple principle. In the villages, this network is the most important thing for Orbán. The mayors of these villages can only do something,
they can only show people that they have built something, if they get EU subsidies for it. The Orbán system tells them: "You will get it. You will get this project, if your village votes well. If you will vote FIDESZ." The EU subsidies go to Orbán's people. They go to Orbán's friends, to Orbán's soldiers. Sociologist Bálint Magyar calls it a "post-communist mafia state." The mafia state is the organized criminal upperworld. The privatized form of a parasite state. When the state itself behaves like the Mafia, they do not fight against corruption as it is. They fight against unauthorized corruption, against corruption which is not managed and organized by themselves. But at the same time, the state itself is operated like a criminal organization. The Dolomit mining company. The majority share is in the possession of the father of the Prime Minister.
According to Hungarian journalists, the company generates profit margins of 41 percent, more than double that of the market average. It is said to be the most profitable company in Hungary. Meszáros wins the state projects and provides the stone for the highways, for the big buildings, for the railways, by Orbán. It is a never-ending cycle. Propelled by funding from the EU. Most of the projects are funded by the EU. That's how the money from the German citizens first goes through the EU projects to Meszáros and then to Orbán's father and Orbán's family. With respect to its gross national product, Hungary is the leading recipient of EU aid. None of the other 26 EU countries has profited more. Conservative estimates say, 20 percent of the funding is fed directly into the spoils system.
In a post-communist mafia state the Western taxpayer's EU money is practically our oil reserve. This is the oil reserve for the oligarchs. Natural resources in Russia, Azerbaijan, Central Asian countries are used to keep up similar types of mafia states. As we do not have oil and gas, we have the EU funds and we use this for that. These facts have gotten the attention of Daniel Freund. The EU Parliament member sits on the Budgetary Control Committee. He previously took on corruption at Transparency International. He exchanges views with Akos Hadhazy. Hungary receives the second-highest per capita amount of EU funding. Since Orbán has been in office, more than 40 billion euros in aid has been received. Hardly any other EU state has received more. Orbán's actions are also motivated by the desire to cement his authoritarian rule. Orbán's entire family is said to be involved.
One individual repeatedly appears on the radar of investigators: Viktor Orbán's son-in-law. He is also accused of unjust personal gain. That this is possible in the middle of the European Union, that his family members and friends are becoming so immensely rich, that the profit margins of the father's quarry are going through the roof, that millions of Euro are diverted in the simplest, most banal ways into the family's own pockets and we can't prevent, as a European Union, the money from being taken from us like this, is unbelievable. The EU is at least hot on the trail of the matter. A total of 13 major cases are currently under investigation. At the center of one of these is Orbán's son-in-law. He is accused of engaging in anti-competitive practices to receive lucrative contracts for retrofitting streetlights with LEDs. The EU's anti-fraud authorities, OLAF, conducted the investigation.
In this single case, it recommended the repayment of 43 million euros. In reality, however, they are powerless to fight such frauds, due to the fact that they are unable to conduct any investigations on site. The control system is dependent on the participation of reliable judicial systems in the member states. Thus, the authorities in Brussels often find their hands tied. Despite the fact that investigators are aware of problems in Hungary. Of course, we don't reveal our cases, but in some member states like Hungary, the figure is quite high. When we close the case and we send it, our mandate stops there. So then it depends on national authorities what they will do with it. Most of the time we send it to the national persecutor and they are totally free and independent to decide if they indict the case or not. In Hungary the indictment rate is too low of course. I was in Hungary in January and we wanted to know
if there are some reasons why they don't indict. The authorities are powerless. Since there are a host of such cases in other member states that have run aground and are unable to be prosecuted, the EU founded the European Public Prosecutor's office. In November 2019, it commenced operations. Based in Luxemburg, it can investigate across Europe. However, both Hungary and Poland refuse to participate. After 20 years of negotiations, it's finally about to start. But we didn't manage to get all the member countries on board. That would have required unanimity. The two missing ones, Poland and Hungary, know why they don't want to be members. Why they don't want the European Public Prosecutor's Office to have access to the distribution of EU funds in the two countries. It's very understandable that Orbán fights for national sovereignty. But for a criminal organization, the national sovereignty is just a cover ideology
of the wish to have impunity and the EU should realize that Orbán and his gang are criminals and they should be treated as such. In the European Parliament, negotiations on the rule of law mechanism enter the next stage. Parliament members are as certain as they've ever been that there must be an effective instrument in place to protect the EU from corruption from within. Daniel Freund shared the findings of his research trip in Hungary. When we're investing more money than ever before, it must be certain that the money is going where it's supposed to go. For this, we need an effective control mechanism. To the Parliament, these two things have always been inseparable. We saw that this was broken up at this summit, that solidarity and the rule of law are not thought of as one. Both are fundamental pillars of the EU. It doesn't work without the rule of law, but it also doesn't without solidarity. Behind closed doors, marathon negotiation sessions take place.
Among others, Daniel Freund debates details with the German EU Minister. Negotiations drag on for months. Everyone is fully aware that the Hungarian Prime Minister is threatening to continue blocking the EU. That strains talks to the extreme. There were clear statements from the European Parliament. Without the condition of rule of law there would never be consent. We have also adopted this position. But then, we also had to put a proposal on the table which is in line with the Council's conclusion. And that caused a lot of trouble. The Council's current proposal is a step backwards. We can already shut down a program in case of maladministration. It would be a step backward if we'd have to ask the Council in the future whether we can shut down a program in the event of maladministration. It's a joke. So, the proposal is unacceptable. Negotiations threaten to unravel as the German EU Council President fears Hungary's veto. It hangs over the negotiations, crippling them.
It also causes the negotiations to lose sight of the most essential issues. Because all of a sudden, the core of the EU values find themselves on the negotiating table. I actually wanted to make it clear again. What we presented is the starting point for negotiations. Negotiations mean moving towards each other. Consequently, we will also automatically move from our original proposal towards the European Parliament. When it comes to the core values, no compromises are possible at all. What does the rule of law mean? Separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, free media, a critical culture, the protection of minorities. This is not negotiable. This is universal. And you can't give in. Not one iota. It is primarily thanks to the members of the European Parliament who prevent the constitution itself from being dismantled by the chief negotiators.
After months of drawn-out talks, they reach an agreement with the German EU Council Presidency regarding the rule of law mechanism. A way to protect European democracies. Those struggling for democracy seem to have prevailed in the end. A complete bipartisan effort. When the decision was made, we were happy, of course. Then, at some point, Warsaw and Budapest signaled: "We don't agree with that." Poland and Hungary close ranks with each other and block the resolution agreed upon in the European Parliament. They are determined to prevent the rule of law mechanism. Their narrative now is: "We have a different history, we have a different culture. That's why we just have different values. We interpret the rule of law differently than you do. You think the rule of law is this. We think the rule of law is that. And we'll settle somewhere in the middle." You can't do that with values.
If we engage in this discussion, we're already on a very slippery slope. We must never let that happen. Never. Will the EU allow itself to be blackmailed? And allow the blackmailers to dictate the line? Did the EU not realize that it is only two member states who are questioning the principle of European solidarity? I think the heads of state and government must be aware of one thing: In such a situation the EU cannot afford to be brought to its knees by Poland and Hungary. I think it's all or nothing. A formulaic compromise is no longer possible. Everyone here is aware that there have been repeated attacks on the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. Where the independent judiciary is under attack, the freedom of the press is being restricted and the states are strangling academic freedom. Furthermore, minorities are oftentimes not afforded protection. All of this is taking place right before our eyes. This is about the basis of our Europe,
of our states, of our democracy. Nothing more, nothing less. This is the basis on which we have built our system. There are now countries of which we used to believe that they are deeply rooted democracies that are beginning to discredit the judiciary. So if not now, when? We must make clear what our values are. Should they really back down from the enemies within their own ranks, in order to assist countries on whom the pandemic has taken a heavy toll? It is one of the biggest crises to ever face the EU. The German chancellor finds a compromise that will break the Hungarian veto, thus freeing up corona aid. The solution: a mechanism pertaining to the rule of law will come. But the instrument is to be first put on ice. The European Court of Justice should analyze its validity, which will take over a year. Orbán has won time and will thus be able to further strengthen his grip.
When the house is on fire, how long can you wait to put out the flames? Is it a compromise or a capitulation? The voters and the Hungarian opposition must resolve the domestic conflicts. I'm working on that, too. But the EU must strengthen its own immune system against such challenges. Because if the member states see how much they can get out of such destructive ways while destroying the community, this will set a precedent. Then, many Viktor Orbán-alikes will come up in the EU. A new generation of Viktor Orbáns. That is the risk. Critics say that the course taken by Chancellor Merkel was one of appeasement with the autocrats. A Faustian pact. It could break the EU. A taming of Orbán can only take place in the long term, in stages. I know this is frustrating for the voters, frustrating for the citizens, frustrating for anyone who deals with it, including me. But the European Union is a machine
that works slowly, but very efficiently. I think this is a political battle that will go on for many years. And we are only at the beginning. Does the EU really have the luxury of time? Or will the Orbán model, to achieve personal gain without paying heed to the greater good, become common practice? The EU has reached a crossroads.
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