10 Facts About Corruption in Hungary

After several subsequent electoral successes, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party have been accused of corrupt activity by the European Union and opposition parties in Hungary. Today, Hungary is ranked as 64 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption, ranking it “among the most corrupt Member States” in the EU. In the text below are 10 facts about corruption in Hungary.

10 Facts About Corruption in Hungary

  1. Orbán, along with the Christian Democratic People’s Party, holds a super-majority of 66 percent in Parliament, which allows them to amend the country’s constitution. To date, several amendments have passed that cement the power of Fidesz. Most notably, changes made to the electoral process reduce the chances of opposition parties winning seats. A new amendment modified the process so that 93 of the 199 seats are awarded proportionally based on the percentage of votes a party receives in the national election. The remaining 106 seats are won by receiving a plurality of votes in a local election, meaning that Fidesz can get 40 percent of the vote and still win the seat. Because opposition parties are divided, it is difficult for them to win these local elections.
  2. In March, the European People’s Party discussed suspending the Fidesz party from its bloc in the European Parliament amidst corruption allegations. This is not the first time that Orbán has been threatened with expulsion. However, no actions were taken at that time.
  3. Hungary regularly engages in unannounced “negotiated procedures,” which allow the government to strike a deal without going through an open competition. This has led some to accuse the government of mishandling EU funds. The 2014-2020 EU budget allocates €28 billion to Hungary, but critics worry that much of it will end up in the hands of Orbán’s family, friends and party loyalists. Adding to their concern, the prime minister’s office has sole authority in determining disbursement of funds. Elios Innovatív, owned by Orbán’s son-in-law István Tiborcz, had won a €40 million contract with the government in 2015. Lőrinc Mészáros, a longtime political ally of Orbán’s, has seen his wealth triple since Orbán’s election. He has become the second richest man in Hungary, owning 203 companies and receiving 83 percent of his companies’ profits from EU funds.
  4. From 2013 to 2019, Hungary’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index dropped from 56 to 87 in the world. The dramatic shift occurred when 476 private media companies simultaneously transferred ownership, without compensation, to the Central European Press and Media Foundation. Allies of the Prime Minister head the company, including István Varga, a former Fidesz member of Parliament, and István Bajkai, Orbán’s personal lawyer.
  5. The Fidesz Party declined to sign an agreement that would allow Central European University (CEU) to remain in Budapest. The university will now be forced to move its campus to Austria. CEU has several anti-corruption research arms, including the Anti-Corruption Research Group and the Center for Integrity in Business and Government. At multiple points, their reports were critical of the Fidesz government and accused it of corrupt activity. For example, one CEU research report wrote that the party engaged in “a constitutional coup d’état against an established democracy.”
  6. Through gerrymandering, Fidesz effectively limits opposition party participation. Gerrymandering ensures victory in what would otherwise be competitive districts. One study found that an opposition party needs to receive around 300,000 more votes than the Fidesz party needs in order to win a majority in the parliament.
  7. A 2016 poll reported that two-thirds of Hungarians regard their government as corrupt with 60 percent believing that corruption in Hungary goes to the top levels of government, including Orbán. This reflects a strong need for change, but the power accumulated through corruption has allowed Fidesz to continue to govern.
  8. Amid growing corruption concerns, an opposition politician named Akos Hadhazy gathered 680,000 signatures demanding that Hungary join the EU’s new anti-corruption arm, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Hadhazy specifies many of these 10 facts about corruption in Hungary, but he is especially concerned about the use of EU funds. Thus far, Fidesz refuses to join, citing concerns about overreach from Brussels. Hadhazy said, “Now it’s up to EU institutions to increase pressure on the Hungarian government unless they want European taxpayers to finance a regime that openly works against the EU.”
  9. Transparency International Hungary (TIH), an anti-corruption NGO, considers young people to be essential to combating corruption. According to TIH, 90 percent of Hungarians ages 15-29 believe that corruption is present in their politics. However, they also find that only 25 percent of young people believe that reporting government corruption will be taken seriously. TIH hopes to mobilize the youth in their fight against corruption.
  10. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee provides free legal assistance to detainees, victims of police brutality and jailed protestors or activists. The group helped more than 1,400 people in 2018. From 2008 to 2018, it trained more than 4,000 lawyers, judges and states officers. The NGO describes itself as “one of the few remaining voices that publicly oppose attacks on civil society and the further democratic backsliding of Hungary.” Hungarian tax laws allow its citizens to donate 1 percent of their income tax to a nonprofit of their choosing. NGOs, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, encourage donations in order to continue their work. Through this, Hungarians may express their support for organizations working to combat corruption in their country.

According to the World Bank, Hungary has a poverty rate of about 15 percent, meaning almost 1.5 million Hungarians live in poverty. These 10 facts about corruption in Hungary threaten academia, the media, NGOs and several democratic institutions. This, in turn, threatens the well-being of Hungarian civil society, which is trying its best to create a more equitable and just Hungary.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr