With recent legal changes, the Hungarian government is making a mockery of EU asylum law, as ECRE has commented. But letting Hungary – again and again – get away with actions that contravene EU law and values makes a mockery of us all.

The harsh measures and vile rhetoric against refugees and migrants are but part of a systematic attempt to undermine the rule of law.

The likely closure of the Central European University (CEU) has rightly caused an outcry. The draft law on foreign funding of civil society organizations, leaked this week, must be met with similar resistance. Our counterparts in civil society are presented as traitors by the government but after the purges of the institutions and control of the media, they are among the last defenders of democracy and human rights in the country. Despite very difficult circumstances, they continue to have an impact, as demonstrated in last year’s referendum and the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the illegality of Hungary’s practices at the border.

The best way to support them – and the EU itself – is for EU leaders to take a tougher line against the government. Hit it where it hurts: EU funding; the benefits of membership, such as free movement; the “rule of law” mechanism; Article 7, finally. (And why is Fidesz still in the European People’s Party? Is that supposed to act as a constraint?)

On asylum, if the new working group of EU experts and Hungarian officials is to be the alternative to infringement procedures in response to the new law, then it must produce results: i.e. compliance with EU law. And other countries must resist when Orban tours Europe this year pitching his proposals to reform (undermine) the ECtHR.

Politicians are tip-toing around these issues to keep the Dublin system running and uphold the illusion of a functioning Common European Asylum System. Perhaps some see Hungary as a pioneer when it comes to asylum or they are less concerned about deliberate violations of EU law in this area. Maybe they don’t mind if Hungary does their dirty work for them at the borders. But all these measures are symptomatic of a general disregard for EU law and values. This is the real threat to the EU not refugees.

In its meeting on 12 April the Commission can get the ball rolling with a tougher approach.

The era of joking about Monsieur le Dictateur has passed. In order to prevent a spillover effect, everyone needs to resist, not just Hungarian civil society. Otherwise this starts to look like complicity – allowing the Hungarian government  to normalize what was previously unthinkable in all areas of policy.

Catherine Woollard, Secretary General for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)     

Read ECRE legal note: Asylum in Hungary damaged beyond repair?

Photo: (cc) Roman Shenav