Criminalising help for refugees is a sign of Viktor Orbns growing authoritarianism. Europe cannot afford to ignore it, says Guardian columnism Owen Jones
Its time for the European Union to kick Hungary out. There it is, a member state, casually flouting basic democratic norms and human rights, swiftly evolving into an authoritarian nightmare, with absolutely no meaningful consequences.
Consider the latest act in Hungarys slide towards what its prime minister Viktor Orbn boasts is an illiberal democracy. The countrys parliament has not just passed a law making claims for asylum almost impossible: the very act of helping migrants and refugees has been criminalised. Furthermore, a 25% tax has been slapped on funding for NGOs that support immigration: in practice, that means having anything positive to say about immigration.
In the same week, the musical Billy Elliot was cancelled in Budapest after a vicious homophobic campaign by the pro-government press, including the claim in one government-linked newspaper that it could transform Hungarian boys into homosexuals.
In its war on democracy, the Orbn government has launched a bitter campaign against George Soros that is littered with antisemitic tropes. His Open Society Foundations network is leaving Budapest because of what it calls an increasingly repressive political and legal environment. Another target of the government is Budapests Central European University, seen as a focal point for anti-Orbn sentiment, which says legal and political pressure may drive it out of the country. The state media promotes pro-government propaganda and smears the opposition; pro-government media is buying up independent publications; media outlets that are opposed to or critical of Orbn are under growing pressure.
And yet as Michael Ignatieff, president of the Central European University puts it, this is happening with the collusion and compliance of the EU. Orbns Fidesz party remains a member of the European Peoples party the grouping of the EUs centre-right parties which, when it met in Warsaw earlier this month, failed to even reprimand Hungary. The EPP leader, Manfred Weber an ally of Angela Merkel has even leapt to Orbns defence.
At the very least, article 7 of the Lisbon treaty which demands all EU countries respect the values of the EU should be activated, with the suspension of Hungarys voting rights and other sanctions. This demand has already been made by the European parliaments civil liberties committee, which lists 12 breaches ranging from the weakening of the judiciary to restrictions on free speech.
But Hungary, along with increasingly authoritarian Poland, is making an utter mockery of the EUs stated commitment to democracy and human rights. In 2016 Luxembourgs foreign minister called for Hungary to be expelled from the EU because of its treatment of refugees. He was right. Yes, the EU is buffeted by multiple crises, from Brexit to the assumption of power of a Eurosceptic Italian government. But its acceptance of its own member states succumbing to authoritarianism may prove its greatest existential threat of all.
Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist