Hungary: A case of neglect?

Introduction

Hungary regularly took part in the Semester cycle since 2011 and received several CSRs related to employment, many of which, such as the question of public works scheme or the tax burden on workers with low income persistently appeared in the CSRs for up to seven years. The analysed period between 2011 and 2018 coincides with the period of Viktor Orban’s Eurosceptic government being in power. In that period, Hungarian policymaking has become completely centralized and the political elites have nurtured an adversarial approach to EU’s involvement in national socioeconomic governance.

The first section paints the political, economic and social picture of Hungary after Viktor Orban swept the political landscape in 2010. The second section concentrates on the effects that the Semester had on the governance structure in Hungary, followed by a concentrated discussion on Semester’s influence on employment policy with a special focus on the public works scheme and the Youth Guarantee.

Political system of Hungary: A Fidesz-dominated political environment

In 2010, the populist right-wing party Fidesz and its leader Viktor Orban secured a landslide victory in the general elections for the Hungarian parliament (the National Assembly) and acquired a 2/3 supermajority (Varnagy, 2011). The rise of Fidesz would very soon completely change the political, economic and social landscape of the country. In the years to come, the Orban regime radically centralized political power in the hands of the governing party Fidesz, penetrated into all spheres of society and eliminated important horizontal and vertical checks and balances (Agh, 2016). For once, the super-majority in the parliament enabled Fidesz to impost a new constitutional order. The government curbed the constitutional courts’jurisdiction and right to exercise constitutional review (see Bankuti et al., 2012; Varnagy, 2012: 129, 2014: 152). The new constitution has also created new and expanded existing “reserved domains” by specifying 32 legislative fields in which a 2/3 majority was needed to legislate (Bogaards, 2018: 9). New provisions on cardinal laws now required a 2/3 majority to overturn existing legislature, which makes it practically impossible for any new government to change policy. Fidesz soon took control of the media and changed existing media laws and vested unprecedented powers to the Media Council to monitor content and fine media outlets (Bajomi-Lázár, 2013: Bánkuti et al., 2012: 140). Finally, Fidesz was quick to change electoral rules and engineered a new electoral system with a pronounced majoritarian element which would leave other parties in Hungary without a chance of scoring high in the 2014 general elections. On the basis of new rules, Fidesz won a 2/3 majority in the parliament following the 2014 and 2018 elections.

These and many other reforms had the intention to strengthen the control of the governing party in Hungary over key electoral, judicial, media and other resources. A rich scholarly debate on the nature of the Orbán regime post-2010 had documented this erosion of Hungarian democracy1 (Bajomi-Lázár, 2013: Bogaards, 2018; Bozóki and Hegediis, 2018; Krekó and Enyedi, 2018). According to Ágh (2016: 280), it boils down to the fact that Fidesz was able to expand its informal clientelist network of patronage relationships and colonize large sections of political, social, economic and cultural life.

The rapid overhaul of the political and socio-economic system in Hungary had three sources. First, the majoritarian character of the electoral system made it possible for Orbán to initiate a “perfect storm” (Bogaards, 2018: 10). A 2/3 qualified majority offered a window of opportunity to initiate a complete reconstruction of the political, economic and social landscape. Second, Viktor Orbán became the personification of a charismatic leader and the legitimacy of the regime seemed to rest on his personal authority (Krekó and Enyedi, 2018: 43). Thanks to his skills, Fidesz was able to exploit to their advantage a third factor, namely the political and public dissatisfaction with the way the scandal-ridden socialist (MSZP) government handled the financial crisis in a neoliberal fashion. This was a perfect setting to come up with a new nationalist rhetoric (Table 4.1).

Table 4.1 Government composition in Hungary (2006-)

Government

Coalition

Prime minister

From-Until

Gyurcsány II

MSZP. SZDSZ

Gyurcsány, Ferenc

June 2006-April 2009

Bajnai I

MSZP, SZDSZ

Bajnai, Gordon

April 2009-May 2010

Orbán II

Fidesz, KDNP

Orbán, Viktor

May2010-June 2014

Orbán III

Fidesz, KDNP

Orbán, Viktor

June 2014-May 2018

Orbán IV

Fidesz, KDNP

Orbán, Viktor

May 2018-present

Party acronyms: MSZP—Hungarian Socialist Party (socialists); SZDSZ—Alliance of Free Democrats; Fidesz—Hungarian Civic Union; KDNP—Christian Democratic People’s Party.

 
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