Viktor Orban’s Article 7 headache doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Finland recently took over the rotating EU Presidency and announced that one of the priorities of its term would be strengthening the rule of law in EU member states.
Since he retook office almost a decade ago, Orban has gone about systemically dismantling the rule of law in Hungary. Gone are independent courts and a free media. Academic institutions are also closing or moving out of the country. Civil society is constantly harassed and hamstrung by new regulations aimed at impeding their work.
All of this has led the European Parliament to vote to start the Article 7 procedure against Hungary, which could lead to sanctions against the government, like losing its voting rights at the EU. Orban’s hope now is to slow the process and shore up alliances that would insulate his government from sanctions. He was probably buoyed by the fact that the previous holder of the EU Presidency, Romania, is awash in problems of its own (most notably corruption).
Finland is not so encumbered. And the EU Presidency is much more than a ceremonial position. The member state gets to lay out the agenda for that term, meaning the EU will focus on the priorities Finland sets, and the rule of law is near the top of the list. This has caused Orban to turn his propaganda machine against the Finns, knocking them for not have a free media, not doing enough to protect minorities, and not having a constitutional system that upholds the rule of law. It’s some truly dizzying projecting.
The propaganda blitz has been led by Zoltán Kovács, Orban’s spokesman, who authored two English-language blogs about the state of affairs in Finland. In the blogs, he draws out the aforementioned points in an effort to undermine Finland’s credibility and bring into question any future rule-of-law proceedings that are brought against Hungary.
Unsurprisingly, Kovács’s arguments don’t pass the smell test. Not only does Finland have a free press, it has one of the freest presses in the world. The World Press Freedom Index – the definitive ranking on press freedom around the world – puts Finland at second in the world in press freedom. Hungary? Eighty-seventh. So, worse. Just by a bit.
Kovács is correct that Finland doesn’t have a Constitutional Court, but the devil is in the details. The country does have a constitutional committee, which reviews all proposed laws to make sure they’re constitutional. And even then, there are ex-post controls given to the judicial system that do allow it to act if faced with a law that has become manifestly unconstitutional. There’s also the small matter of nobody ever complaining about the strength of Finland’s constitutional system. No bad stories from certain media outlets, no reports, etc. Sorry, check that – one government-employed blogger in Hungary has complained.
That being said, Finland is not opposed to reconsidering its system to ensure that it as constitutionally sound as possible. Last year, the Finnish president, unprompted, said he would be open to exploring the possibility of establishing a Constitutional Court, saying, "There's no hurry, better to take our time and really devote ourselves to exploring and discussing the matter.”
Hungary’s wrath towards Finland can probably best be understood as panic. Orban surely sees that other EU member states are not going to roll over and forget his moves against democracy and the rule of law. This means the Hungarian government’s attacks against Finland are unlikely to stop. And this means somebody has some blogs to write.