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Commentators on Left and Right ponder the broader implications of the EU’s rule of law conditionality. Most importantly, they try to gauge how and when it could be used against Hungary.

Hungarian press roundup by budapost.eu

Magyar Nemzet’s László Néző comments on George Soros’ opinion piece in which the Hungarian-American financier expresses ‘moral outrage’ over the EU deal with Prime Minister Orbán, and accuses Chancellor Merkel of “surrendering to Hungarian and Polish extortion’. Néző notes that while George Soros sees the deal as a defeat of the critics of Prime Minister Orbán, ‘his vassals’, the Hungarian opposition claim victory. The pro-government commentator thinks that George Soros’ outrage is a clear indication that he sees the EU as an “ideological playground” that he can easily dominate. Néző goes on to claim that Soros lost a battle, but he has not yet lost the war. He recalls that Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency has called on the EU court to decide on future rule of law cases in expedited trials. All this, Néző suspects, foreshadows tough fights between Hungary and the EU.

On Mandiner, Gergely Dobozi finds it outrageous that Věra Jourová ordered the EU courts to speed up future rule of law trials. The conservative pundit believes that Jourová’s statement violates the independence of courts, and also shows that the EU wants to use the rule of law conditionality to exercise political control over member states. Dobozi suggests that expedited trials will compromise the quality of EU court rulings.

Writing in the same media outlet, Dániel Kacsoh lambasts the opposition for hoping for help from the EU, “the imperial centre”. The pro-government commentator thinks that if they win the election in 2022, the opposition will become a servant of the West – be it Joe Biden or George Soros. Prime Minister Orbán, however, has again proved that Hungary can achieve the aims she sets herself.

Magyar Hang’s Péter Hajdú is not at all surprised that the EU offered a deal and finally approved what Hungary and Poland wanted. In Hajdú’s interpretation, Prime Minister Orbán realized long ago that by offering lucrative deals to German multinational companies operating in Hungary, he can buy Chancellor Merkel’s support. He thinks that rule of law conditionality is important for the EU only as long as it doesn’t harm the interest of German and other multinational companies. After all, the EU is still grounded on business interests rather than common values, Hajdú concludes.

On Portfolio, Attila Weinhardt wonders how rule of law conditionality will be implemented. Even if the EU follows Věra Jourová’s suggestion, it is close to impossible to conclude a procedure against Hungary before the 2022 April Parliamentary election, Weinhardt thinks.

On Azonnali, Bea Bakó believes that the EU has not watered down the rule of law criteria. The legal analyst believes that the EU can easily interpret the new deal in a very broad way and use it to punish member states that violate rule of law principles. Bakó, however, acknowledges that it is very unlikely that Hungary will be punished before the 2022 election. And even if it were, and the EU withheld funding for the violation of rule of law, Prime Minister Orbán could use the opportunity to accuse the opposition of betraying their country, and also to financially squeeze opposition-led municipalities.

In Népszava, former MSZP leader Ildikó Lendvai describes the Left’s hope that the EU will finally punish and contain Prime Minister Orbán as pie in the sky. She thinks however that Prime Minister Orbán merely won a battle, but lost the war as the rule of law conditionality will be implemented, even if later than originally planned. Lendvai adds that the EU court may interpret rule of law criteria very liberally in cases that are deemed relevant from a budget perspective, and so it may intervene on quite a wide range of issues invoking rule of law criteria. Lendvai calls on the Hungarian opposition to set up a shadow organization to unveil and report corruption and rule of law violations.

In the featured photo illustration: PM Viktor Orbán and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo by Vivien Cher Benko/PM’s Press Office