Tensions between the EU and Hungary have escalated further after Věra Jourová, the Czech Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, accused Orbán of building a “sick democracy” in an interview with German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.
Jourová also described the state of the Hungarian media landscape as “alarming” in the interview, adding that with scant criticism of the government in the Hungarian media, a large majority of Hungarians may no longer be able to form a free opinion.
In a letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, Orbán was scathing in his response to Jourová’s comments, describing them as “a direct political attack against the democratically-elected Government of Hungary” and “a humiliation to Hungary and the Hungarian people.”
He said the comments were “a blatant violation of the principle of sincere cooperation and prevent any meaningful future dialogue between Hungary and the Vice President.”
“Those who violate the Treaties cannot pose as the defenders of rule of law and European values. The statements of Vice President Věra Jourová are incompatible with her current mandate, therefore her resignation is indispensable,” he concluded.
“My advice to von der Leyen on Orbán’s letter: bin it. My advice to Orbán when respect and democracy are being discussed: zip it. Věra Jourová is doing her job protecting the EU and rights of Hungarians and must not be bullied” Guy Verhofstadt MEP
Hungary’s track record on rule of law has been subject to increased scrutiny and criticism in recent months, with many policymakers laying bare the backsliding on democracy in the Member State.
This criticism reached fever pitch in April after Orbán used the Coronavirus pandemic to make an autocratic power grab through the “Authorisation Act.” The government now has the power to rule by decree for as long as necessary and can decide itself when the “state of danger” is over.
Long vocal on the subject of rule of law breaches in Hungary, MEPs waded into the Jourová-Orbán fracas, expressing unwavering solidarity with Jourová, who has sometimes been criticised for not being reproving enough towards Hungary.
Renew Europe President Dacian Cioloş said in a tweet on Tuesday, “Full support to Věra Jourová. These attacks on a Vice-President of the Commission doing her job and calling a spade a spade is further proof of the need for a clear and impartial rule of law protection mechanism, free from political pressure.”
On Monday Hungarian Minister of Justice Judit Varga also demanded Jourová’s resignation, saying, “No democratic institution should tolerate a leader who uses such insults as she did in her Spiegel interview.”
“This is Viktor Orbán giving everybody in Brussels a taste of his disgraceful intimidation tactics. Věra Jourová has the EU’s fullest support. Free press and critics of Orbán in Hungary do not have that luxury” Daniel Freund MEP
Hungarian Renew Europe deputy Katalin Cseh countered, “Well, Judit Varga, what ‘humilates Hungarian people’ is the corruption that made the Prime Minister’s pipe-fitter pal and son-in-law the richest men in the country. That’s utterly humiliating for all Hungarians working hard to get ahead.”
Fellow Renew Europe MEPs Guy Verhofstadt and Anna Júlia Donáth, also a Hungarian deputy, had choice words for Hungary.
Verhofstadt said, “My advice to von der Leyen on Orbán’s letter: bin it. My advice to Orbán when respect and democracy are being discussed: zip it. Věra Jourová is doing her job protecting the EU and rights of Hungarians and must not be bullied.”
Donáth also expressed her support for Jourová, quoting the Vice President when she said in her interview, “Mr Orbán likes to say he's building an illiberal democracy, I'd say: he's building an ill democracy.” Donáth agreed, saying, “indeed he's purposefully undermining rule of law, weakening the country’s immune system to reduce the fight against corruption.”
She added, “These statements are more than Věra Jourová’s own views. They echo the European Parliament’s decision to launch Article 7, the EPP’s decision to suspend Fidesz, the recent words of Donald Tusk and many others. Making this a crusade against Vice President Jourová makes no sense. The issue here is Orbán.”
“Making this a crusade against Vice President Jourová makes no sense. The issue here is Orbán” Anna Júlia Donáth MEP
Belgian Greens/EFA deputy Petra De Sutter said she gave her full support to Jourová, "who is only doing her job defending the rule of law in Europe."
She added, "Mr Orban, when you don’t like the messenge, don’t shoot the messenger. The EU is about values. Values you clearly don’t share."
Fellow Belgian MEP Hilde Vautmans said simply, “What a joke! How long will we allow these provocations by Orbán and his illiberal allies? Commissioner Vera Jourová, you have my full support. The EU has to take a firm position and show that it will not bow to this kind of political pressure.”
Spanish S&D member Javi López said, "Facts are facts: Orban is building a sick democracy. We can do nothing but condemn Orban's bullying attitude. Commissioner Věra Jourová is fulfilling her obligations with which she was entrusted: upholding the rule of law."
German Greens/EFA MEP Daniel Freund also chipped in, saying, “This is Viktor Orbán giving everybody in Brussels a taste of his disgraceful intimidation tactics. Věra Jourová has the EU’s fullest support. Free press and critics of Orbán in Hungary do not have that luxury.”