The Idea of Democracy Protection in the EU Revisited

First of all, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to a very stimulating, truly problem-oriented debate. I would like to take a few steps back and begin with some general observations.

I think it remains important that we distinguish two challenges: one is the question how the European Union should respond to the actions of the current Hungarian government (I insist on the importance of choosing words carefully here: the problem is not ‘Hungary’, but a particular set of politicians and their disregard for the rule of law. Remember how Wolfgang Schüssel and others managed to convince practically everyone that in 2000 we were witnessing ‘sanctions against Austria’ — as opposed to bilateral measures designed to express concerns about the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition). The other challenge is how to devise, for the long term, a new set of institutions or ‘mechanisms’ to respond to deteriorations of democracy and the rule of law in a Member State.

Both challenges can be looked at from at least two crucial, but in the end clearly different perspectives. One is a practical one: what is deemed politically feasible and what is likely to be effective in changing the conduct of a Member State government? The other one is more clearly normative: what can be justified from a, broadly speaking, liberal democratic perspective? How can one ensure that responses to violations of the rule of law are not themselves in danger of looking like arbitrary ad hoc measures (again, a complaint that was often voiced against the EU-14 by the Austrian government in 2000 – and not entirely without reason)? The latter peril is already pervasive in today’s EU because of the Eurocrisis – and the danger of a Europe of permanent exceptions should not be compounded.

Let me, then, say something briefly about the current challenge of how to respond to what I think by now can be called Orbán’s national-populist regime ...

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