The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

Hungary – seeking to combat a Trojan horse

George M Mangion Tuesday, 18 September 2018, 10:05 Last update: about 4 months ago

Antonio Tajani, the Italian President of the European Parliament, has defended his party's decision not to vote for EU action against Hungary's breach of core EU values, claiming the situation was worse in Malta and Slovakia. It was Forza Italia MEPs who said Malta, Slovakia and Romania fared worse on the rule of law than Hungary but so far there has been no motion to challenge Malta, Slovakia and Romania for breaking any rule of law.

Yet only last Wednesday, the European Parliament voted in favour of triggering action against Hungary's increasingly repressive policies, which human rights activists say are eroding fundamental rights, freedoms and the rule of law. The vote garnered more than the two-thirds majority required, with many of Hungary's allies in the conservative party voting against. Many cheered this historic result, saying it protects the EU from the extreme actions of some of its members but, in the final analysis, the vote needs to be unanimous in order to invoke the ultimate penalty of Hungary - ie being suspended from voting in the EU.

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The facts show that its Polish ally would veto that. In Strasbourg, all the Maltese MEPs except one voted in favour of punishing Viktor Orbán's Hungary for rule of law violations. The exception was Dr Alfred Sant, who said that, on the basis of information that is available, he disagreed with many of the Hungarian government's policies, which he described as having an "illiberal and authoritarian orientation".

Reproducing his comments Dr Sant said: "I do not believe that the procedures adopted in this House to consider and pass judgement on governmental decision-making in our member states are objective, transparent or fair. I say so from personal knowledge of how such procedures are being applied in the case of my country, Malta, where the methods and approaches being followed by members of this Parliament to examine governance issues, are crassly biased. This has happened to the extent that when so-called NGOs are consulted about the situation in the country, they are chosen in a partisan and one-sided way". Dr Sant opined that if such approaches are adopted with regard to a given country, it cannot be excluded that they are also followed in other instances.

In passing, Dr Sant was referring to the visit to Malta by a delegation last December, headed by Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld, with the aim of taking stock of the developments in Malta. The delegation expressed serious concerns about the unclear separation of powers in Malta, which it feared called into question the independence of the judiciary and the police. It also expressed concern that the implementation of anti-money-laundering regulations was weak.

Back to the vote in Strasbourg, the Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference in Budapest: "The decision was made in a fraudulent way, and contrary to relevant rules in European treaties." Support for Orbán's party came from Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch anti-immigration Freedom Party, who called the vote 'a bloody shame'. Wilders said "Orbán is a hero and deserves the Nobel Prize. He closed the borders to Islamic fortune seekers. He protects his citizens against terror and defends the identity of his country."

Why do countries such as Hungary behave in this manner at a time when their economy is registering a healthy GDP growth and almost boasts full employment? The answer is complex. Just consider that Hungary's parliament has passed a series of laws that criminalise any individual or group that offers to help an illegal immigrant claim asylum. It fiercely resists any entry by migrants, almost likening them to a wooden Trojan horse of terrorism. It has passed various laws to restrict the ability of non-governmental organisations to help in asylum cases and has gone as far as passing a constitutional amendment stating that such migrants can be described as an alien population.

The main force behind this philosophy is the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, leader of the right-wing Fidesz party. He is powerful in Hungary, having just been re-elected for a third term, and now enjoys a two-thirds majority in the chamber.

Upon reflection, we note how the populist Fidesz leader was re-elected by a landslide in April after a campaign attacking US billionaire George Soros. In a fanciful theory, Orbán believes that the freelancer Soros has encouraged mass immigration in order to undermine Europe. As in Italy and Austria, migration in has been a hot topic in press comments in Hungary and is now a major concern for voters across the European Union. The sentiment is very much against the policy of Germany's Merkel to embrace migrants, to whom it has freely opened its doors for the past three years.

Xenophobic claims have been uttered loud from Fidesz party officials, claiming that the surge of migrants (mostly from Middle-eastern regions) have moved on to wealthier western European countries and thus created a threat to Christian values. Hungary did actually build a steel border fence to deter migrants from coming in along the southern border. Having said this, it must be said that such laws were opposed by civil liberties groups, supported by some socialist MPs, yet it was all in vain. The law, empowering the state to round up all men, women and children seeking asylum and detain them for months on end container camps in Hungary, was passed overwhelmingly by the Fidesz party and the far-right Jobbik group by 138 votes to six with 22 abstentions.

What is so draconian about this law? The answer is that, at present, immigrants can be held for up to four weeks if they are apprehended anywhere in the country. Unaccompanied minors under the age of 14 will be placed in the care of the country's child protection services. The government stressed that any detained asylum-seekers would be free to leave at any point, as long as they dropped their claim and returned to either Serbia or Croatia, the two countries through which most refugees have been arriving.

Human rights groups said that the Hungarian authorities had occasionally refused food to asylum seekers held in the two border camps, which are open towards Serbia, while they await the outcome of their asylum appeals. Even the Helsinki Committee, a rights group, said last month that it had asked the Strasbourg-based ECHR to intervene over what it described as 'inhumane' treatment on the border.

It accused Hungary of refusing to provide food to migrants in the camps in order to discourage them from pursuing appeals in court and return to Serbia. With hindsight, one notes that Hungary accepted 502 asylum-seekers in 2015 and 425 in 2016 yet by sheer contrast Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and 280,000 in 2016.

In conclusion, perhaps now that Hungary has been chastised regarding its migration policy, we can expect improvements in the handling of asylum-seekers and fair treatment for all refugees.

 

George M. Mangion

[email protected]

George Mangion is a senior partner of an audit and consultancy firm, and has over twenty-five years' experience in accounting, taxation, financial and consultancy services. His efforts have seen that PKF has been instrumental in establishing many companies in Malta and placed PKF in the forefront as professional financial service providers on the Island.

 


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