Tag Archives: Hungary

State Sovereignty, Supranationalism, and the EU’s Threat Against Hungary

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban appears to be buckling to pressure from the European Commission to change Hungary's laws. But what are the implications for state sovereignty and democracy?

State sovereignty is a bedrock principle of today’s international system.  It means that governments exercise final authority within their own borders and that states are free from foreign interference in their internal affairs.  Of course, sovereignty is sometimes more clear in theory than in practice.  States are often incapable of exercising complete control of their territory (e.g., Pakistan) and they struggle in an age of globalization to secure their borders against unwanted goods, people, and ideas (e.g., China’s efforts to police the internet).  An additional threat to state sovereignty in the last several decades has been the rise of supranational organizations that have increasingly sought to place limits on state sovereignty in order to deal effectively with global issues ranging from human rights (the ICC) to trade (the WTO) to the distribution of the ocean’s wealth (UNCLOS).

It is therefore not surprising that Hungary today finds its ability to freely enact domestic laws constrained by its membership in the 27-member European Union, the world’s foremost experiment in integration.  Specifically, the EU has voiced concern that recent changes to Hungary’s laws and constitution that appear to undermine judicial independence, central bank independence, and media freedoms herald a return to authoritarianism in the former Communist country.  But the EU has gone beyond simply voicing its displeasure: the European Commission (the EU’s executive body) has declared that these laws violate EU rules and has threatened to take legal action against Hungary if the laws are not changed.  The New York Times highlights the extent (and the limits) of this effort to curtail Hungary’s sovereignty:

“The 27-nation European Union has been grappling with what to do about member countries when they adopt policies that seem to undermine the union’s basic principles.  Though nations must meet specific democracy criteria to join the bloc, once they are members there are relatively few sanctions available to enforce them.  For that reason, the commission’s action against Hungary is based on technical issues rather than the wider concerns that Mr. Orban’s government is undermining democracy, centralizing power and destroying pluralism.  The commission lodged objections to measures that threaten the independence of Hungary’s central bank and its data protection authority, and that change the retirement age of judges.”

It appears that Hungary’s leaders are backing off their earlier hard line and may give in to the EU’s demands.  Clearly this is a defeat for state sovereignty, and some would argue that it is high time for unrestricted state sovereignty to disappear as a relic of a past age.  But is this outcome ultimately dangerous for democracy?  By forcefully imposing rules from above, do supranational bodies like the European Commission risk creating an undemocratic precedent whereby unelected entities are given the power to overrule the choices of elected governments?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The U.S. Presidential elections are in their final days, and the candidates are busy touring swing states in last minute pitches to undecided voters.  Early voting is already underway, and some 20 million people have already voted.  Most analysts are projecting a win for Obama, but McCain is still in position to pull off the upset.  Tuesday is the big day, so all Americans should be sure to exercise their right to vote!

In other news from around the world:

1.  The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which reignited in late summer after the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda announced his intention to cancel the ceasefire under which the country had effectively been operating since 2002.  The latest round of fighting, centered in the eastern part of the country known as North Kivu, has sparked a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, as an estimated one million refugees have fled their homes.  On Wednesday, a new ceasefire was announced after four days of intense fighting, and now the European Union is considering sending troops and aid to the Congo.

2. Ukraine became the latest victim of the global financial crisis on Friday, as its parliament was forced to adopt a package of legislation imposed by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for receiving an emergency $16.5 billion loan from the international organization.  Ukraine’s turn to the IMF for a rescue package follows on the heels of similar moves in Iceland and Hungary, signaling the wide scope of the crisis.  More generally, the Eurozone seems to be facing falling inflation and rising unemployment—with some national variation—as the economic crisis expands.

3.  The global economic crisis is also being felt in China, where projections for annual GDP growth have been cut from 12 percent to 9-9 percent.  Chinese companies are slashing production output, as worldwide demand slides.  Some larger Chinese companies are cutting production by as much as 50 percent, while smaller companies are going out of business altogether.  In an effort to rekindle the economy, the Chinese government announced it would cut the benchmark one-year deposit rate

4.  A U.S. raid into Syria last week has provoked a sharp response from within Syria, as protestors demonstrated against the action.  Syria’s foreign minister condemned the move as an act of “criminal and terrorist aggression.”  The U.S. claimed that Syria had been home to foreign fighters moving into Iraq, saying hat the raid had successfully targeted Abu Ghadiya, who U.S. officials described as “one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region.”  As a result of the attack, U.S.-Syrian relations have soured and anti-U.S. demonstrations forced the temporary closure of the American Embassy in Damascus

5.  In another development highlighting the continuing efforts of the Russian government to reassert itself on the global stage after the Cold War, Russia is negotiating the construction of a new naval base in Libya.  Russia envisions the base as a necessary counterbalance to American interests in the region.  In recent weeks, Libya has increasingly opened its economy to foreign investment and has dramatically improved relations with the West.

Five Most Significant Political Moments in Olympic History

Political debates over the Olympic Games have swirled around Beijing.  The Olympic torch relay—a tradition started by Hitler in the 1936 Games—was marred by protest.  Nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for boycotts of the Games to protest China’s Tibet policy.  But the intersection of the Games and politics is nothing new.  Today, I give you the top five moments in Olympic political history:

5.  Dueling Boycotts.  The 1980 Olympic Games were hosted in Moscow.  Less than a year earlier, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, sparking an international standoff between American-backed Taliban militias and the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan.  In protest of the Soviet move, the United States led a 62-nation boycott of the Moscow Olympics.  Four years later, the Soviets turned the table, with a tit-for-tat boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.

4.  Blood in the Water Match.  In 1956, a Hungarian nationalist uprising threatened to move Hungary from the Soviet bloc.  The Soviet Union sent more than 200,000 soldiers across the border to put down the uprising, leading to violent conflicts in the street.  The Hungarian water polo team, the world’s defending champions, were forced to flee the country during the uprising, and made their way to the Melbourne Olympics without knowing the outcome of the invasion.  When they faced off against Soviet water polo team, the match was violent.  Thousands of spectators cheered the Hungarian team and jeered the Soviets.  Both teams were trading blows in the pool.  Leading 4-0 with just a few minutes to go, the referees were forced to stop the match after Soviet Valentin Prokopov struck Hungarian star Ervin Zadov above the left eye, causing blood to stream down his face and into the pool.

3.  Munich Massacre.  The 1972 Munich Olympics were the first Games held in Germany since Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Games.  The West German government used the motto “The Happy Games” and hoped to use the tournament to present to the world the democratic and optimistic West Germany.  Instead, the Games were marred by the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.  After a one-day suspension, the Games continued.  After the Games concluded, the Israeli government launched Operation Wrath of God and Operation Spring of Youth to track down and kill those responsible for the massacre.

2.  Tommie Smith and John Carols’ Black Power Salute.  The 1968 Olympic Games were hosted in Mexico City.  But in the United States, the civil rights movement was in full swing.  African Americans were fighting racial discrimination.  After winning the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meters, Smith and Carlos received their medals on the podium shoeless but wearing black socks to symbolize black poverty, black scarves to symbolize black pride, and a single black glove on a hand raised in salute.  Both men received death threats after the act and were ostracized by the US sporting establishment.

1. Jesse Owens’ Four Gold Medals.  Hosted by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the 1936 were intended to demonstrate to the world both the power of the Third Reich and the supremacy of Nazi ideology.  When the African American Jesse Owens won four gold medals and set two world records and two Olympic records in the process—a feat not repeated until Carl Lewis performance in the 1984 Olympic games—Hitler’s propaganda mission suffered a serious blow.