Brussels Will Have Little Recourse If Hungarian Elections Aren't Free And Fair, EU Official Tells RFE/RL
The European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency says the bloc is likely to have no room to take action if Hungary's elections in April fail to meet democratic standards.
Speaking to RFE/RL on February 3, Vera Jourova said she hopes the elections will be free and fair, "but if you ask me whether there will be some action taken after the elections if they proved to be undemocratic or unfair, I don't see any way of doing something concrete."
Jourova said Hungary is presenting a unique situation for the 27-nation bloc “because we have always respected the leaders who have come out of the elections as the winners -- but I have to add democratic elections.”
Hungarians head to the polls on April 3 in what is expected to be a tough test for Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party, who have been in power since 2010. Recent polls suggest a close race against opposition candidate Peter Marki-Zay, behind whom multiple opposition parties agreed to unite.
The 58-year-old Orban has turned Hungary into a self-styled "illiberal democracy" with tightened controls on media and civil society groups that have put the country at odds with European Union headquarters in Brussels.
Orban has said Fidesz's strong mandate at the voting booths in previous elections empowered him to rewrite laws, including the constitution.
His critics say his often controversial moves have turned the country away from the democratic norms that are considered a cornerstone across the European Union.
Jourova said the rules for the EU and for its member states have been designed with the understanding that there will always be free and fair elections.
“The organization of elections falls under [the] absolute competence of the member states so we are not ready for such situations,” she said.
Asked whether the situation made her feel powerless, she said she had mixed feelings but would always defend the balancing of powers in the EU.
While member states commit to respect, promote, and protect democratic principles at the moment of joining the EU, “we lived in a very naive illusion that no state will ever deviate from these principles.”
She nevertheless hopes the elections will be fair and notes that there will be monitors present and attention from foreign media.
“I would really like to see the winner who will be able to say honestly, 'I have won free and fair elections,'” she said.