Hungarian civil liberties groups have welcomed a new EU report that says the country cannot be considered a full democracy.
The EU parliament voted to approve the report on Thursday, which accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban of creating an “electoral autocracy”.
Budapest rejected the findings and Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the report an “insult”.
But a number of pro-democracy groups in the country welcomed the EU’s move.
“For Hungarian human rights organisations, this is sadly not surprising,” Dr Marta Pardavi told the BBC. “This is obviously something that is very painful for us as Hungarian citizens, but we do see that the report’s conclusion is inevitable.”
Dr Parvdavi, who is co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee – a human rights monitoring group – said “very serious violations” of democratic norms have been documented against Mr Orban’s regime.
“Over the past four years what has happened in Hungary is a solidifying of undemocratic practices,” she added. “It (the report) emphasises the ongoing and almost permanent nature of this democratic backsliding.”
The lengthy report criticised Hungary for a host of restrictions on human rights and democratic practices, including attacks on:
The independence of judiciary
Minorities and asylum seekers
MEPs went on to accuse Mr Orban of “deliberate and systematic efforts” to undermine the EU’s core values.
David Vig, head of Amnesty International in Hungary, said abuses of human rights have increased since a 2018 EU report triggered action against Mr Orban’s government.
“It seems to me that there is now a clear consensus in the EU that what’s happening in Hungary is wrong,” Mr Vig said, speaking to the BBC.
He said the Hungarian government has altered rules around judicial appointments to fill vacancies with political appointees, influenced the public broadcaster to publish “biased” news and attacked the rights of minorities.
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While the report has no practical effect, it heightens pressure on EU leaders to take action against Budapest and highlights increasing attacks on perceived enemies of the government, Emese Pásztor of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union told the BBC.
“It is the tactics of the Hungarian government to name scapegoats,” Ms Pásztor said. “They are choosing groups of people and they name them as people who are threatening the interests of the Hungarian people.”
The report also criticised other EU institutions over “the lack of decisive” action against Hungary. MEPs said the lack of a response had “contributed to a breakdown in democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary”.
Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, an MEP who authored the report and serves as the parliament’s special rapporteur on the rule of law in Hungary, told the BBC that the Commission must be willing to take firmer action against Budapest.
“They took too long to decide on the fact that we should be looking at how the European funds are used,” she said. “The Commission was not quick enough and we are hoping that Ursula von der Leyen will be firm. We know that a number of commissioners are willing to be.”
The European Commission – the EU’s executive body – is expected to propose cutting up to 70% of Hungary’s €24.3bn (£21.28) cohesion funds, intended for infrastructure and development spending, on Sunday.
The move is in response to rule of law and corruption concerns in the country. Hungary has reportedly offered some concessions to Brussels to head off the sanctions.
While Ms Pásztor accepted the need to put pressure on the Orban government, she cautioned against actions that harm everyday citizens.
“There is a clear conflict of interest between the interests of the Hungarian people and the Hungarian government,” she said, noting that the country needed both EU law to be observed and the bloc’s development funds to be delivered.
“Somehow the Hungarian government must be held accountable,” Ms Pásztor said.