A new report by Freedom House on political rights and civil liberties ranks Hungary as partly free with a score of 70 out of 100, making it the only country in the EU not classified as free. Besides Hungary, all candidate countries aspiring to join the EU are also ranked as partly free.
Freedom House is a US-based think tank which publishes annual assessments of more than 200 countries and territories. Each country is assigned between 0 and 4 points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. The overall status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free depends on how the scores on political rights and civil liberties are broken down.
According to the report, which was released last week (4 March), democracy is under assault around the globe. The effects are evident not just in authoritarian states but also in countries with a long track record of upholding basic rights and freedoms. 49 countries around the world have been scored as Not Free.
The principles of liberal democracy in Europe, historically the best-performing region in the world, have been under serious pressure in recent years. Illiberal populist leaders and parties in Central Europe maintained their assault on independent institutions in 2019, according to Freedom House.
Hungary has lost 20 points in its score since the 2010 elections that saw Viktor Orban become Prime Minister. In 2019 Hungary became the first EU country to be downgraded to partly free. Its score is now far below all other member states.
Freedom House writes that the governing party (Fidesz) has pushed through constitutional and legal changes that have allowed it to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions. More recently, the government has moved to institute policies that hamper the operations of opposition groups, journalists, universities, and NGOs.
Among key developments in Hungary in 2019, the report mentions harsh policies toward migrants and asylum seekers. Opposition parliamentarians and journalists lost much of their ability to oppose and criticize the government. Journalists saw their physical access to much of the National Assembly stripped by its speaker.
The report also notes that members of the Roma community face “widespread discrimination, societal exclusion, violence and poverty”, adding that Roma students continue to be segregated at school. The government has so far refused to pay court-ordered compensation to Roma families.
The Hungarian government has announced plans to hold a national consultation on the issue of compensation. Recently it revealed more details about the topics for the planned consultation in March. The consultation will also deal with lawsuits by prisoners against the state over their detention conditions and damages awarded to illegal migrants.
Asked by The Brussels Time on Friday (6 March) if not the consultation might undermine the rule of law, a spokesperson replied that the Commission does not comment on announcements and added that arranging referendums and consultations is a matter for the member states. The European Commission says that it follows closely what is going in Hungary.
The Brussels Times