Transitional or Hybrid Regime
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 42.86 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.57 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
45 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Author

Zsuzsanna Végh

header2 Score changes in 2023

  • Electoral Process rating declined from 4.25 to 4.00 to reflect the extent of the uneven playing field documented by ODHIR and local NGOs in the April 2022 elections, the refusal of election authorities to address substantial irregularities with the use of postal ballots discovered abroad, and the abuse of Hungarian citizens' personal information for campaign purposes.
  • Civil Society rating declined from 4.25 to 4.00 to reflect ongoing pressure on NGOs critical of the government, the increasing use of defamation and smear campaigns against such actors in the media, and the watering down of teachers’ right to strike and firing several of them as a means of intimidation.
  • Judicial Framework and Independence declined from 4.25 to 4.00 due to the continued lack of defense of vulnerable groups and their fundamental rights, exemplified by the downgrading of the Ombudsman’s Office by the GANHRI and Hungary losing multiple cases at the European Court of Human Rights regarding the pushback of asylum-seekers, as well as the smear campaign targeting members of the National Judicial Council, which is considered the last independent judicial institution in the country.

As a result, Hungary’s Democracy Score declined from 3.68 to 3.57.

header3 Executive Summary

In 2022, the right-wing coalition of Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz) and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) reconfirmed its governing position by winning the National Assembly elections in April for a fourth consecutive term, thereby maintaining its grip on the formerly independent institutions of Hungary. The government’s uninterrupted authoritarian streak cements Hungary’s place among hybrid regimes, in the “gray zone” between democracies and autocracies.

The “state of danger,” a special legal order that allows the government to rule by decree, continued throughout 2022, making it the third year with emergency rules in place. As before, the 15-day expiration date of government decrees was circumvented by enabling acts adopted by the two-thirds governing majority. The only change this year was the basis on which the exceptional situation may be declared: following Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February, the Hungarian government, in the tenth amendment to the Fundamental Law passed in May, established that a war or humanitarian catastrophe in a neighboring country are grounds for declaring the state of danger. Consequently, the COVID-19 pandemic was replaced by the war in Ukraine in this regard.

In March, the outgoing parliament elected former Fidesz vice-president Katalin Novák as president of the republic with the governing parties’ two-thirds majority, thus securing a political appointee in the office for the coming five years. The April parliamentary elections brought another victory to the Fidesz–KDNP coalition and renewed its constitutional majority in the National Assembly (parliament). The “United for Hungary” coalition of the six main opposition parties—Democratic Coalition, Dialogue, Hungarian Socialist Party, Jobbik, Momentum, and Politics Can Be Different—performed poorer than expected despite unprecedented coordination in the run-up to the elections. With its 2014 and 2018 recommendations still unaddressed, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) responded to requests from watchdog organizations by calling for a full election observation mission (EOM) to Hungary to monitor the elections. This move, unusual in a European Union (EU) member state, signaled the seriousness of ODIHR's concerns. Prior to the Hungarian elections, the ODIHR had only found it necessary to call for a full EOM in the 2021 Bulgarian elections. Subsequently, its report concluded that despite their professional administration, the elections were “marred by the absence of a level playing field.”1

Prior trends that characterized Hungarian politics in previous years continued in 2022. The governing party sought to deepen its ties with far-right actors internationally, while continuing to demonize the opposition and vulnerable groups, and putting pressure on government-critical voices domestically.

The Russia-friendly attitude of the Fidesz-led government, even after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and its efforts to undermine EU unity on the subsequent sanctions against Russia put the party’s relations with Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party on ice. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speeches—delivered with far-right rhetoric in Băile Tușnad, Romania, and at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the capital Budapest and later in Dallas, Texas—signaled an ideological radicalization of the party and showed the shift of its international partnerships from conservative right-wing to far-right actors.

While the governing parties and progovernment media accused the opposition of trying to drag Hungary into the war, and thereby depicting it as a threat to the nation, the LGBT+ community was singled out in government narratives conflating homosexuality with pedophilia, presenting the former as a threat to the nation’s children. The government’s so-called child protection referendum, announced in 2021, took place alongside the April parliamentary elections, furthering this anti-LGBT+ campaign. Although the referendum results were ruled invalid due to insufficient voter turnout (under 50 percent), the vast majority of valid votes favored the government’s position and Fidesz characterized it as a success. Civil society organizations speaking out against the homophobic nature of the referendum were fined by the National Election Committee, although their appeals against the decisions were partly sustained by the Curia (Hungary’s supreme court).

Defamatory and smear campaigns were targeted at nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their staff both at home and abroad. In a move widely seen as ramping up pressure on critical voices in the civic sector, the State Audit Office requested access to internal financial documents of NGOs deemed as “engaging in activities likely to influence public life.” In an attempt to curb ongoing civil disobedience by teachers who went on strike after demands for higher wages and better working conditions went unheard, government officials dismissed many from their positions. Likewise, government-critical voices in public media are not tolerated. A series of leaked documents from Hungary’s public news agency revealed extensive government influence and internal censorship on issues sensitive for the governing parties.

Investigations by the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information into the state’s use of Pegasus spyware against Hungarian journalists, politicians, and businessmen found no legal breaches, and thus no prosecutions were forthcoming. Meanwhile, the Ombudsperson refrained from engaging in politically sensitive cases and avoided defending vulnerable groups, which resulted in the office being downgraded by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) for its lack of independence. The practice of politically motivated nominations continued in the highest offices of the justice system. Members of the National Judicial Council, considered the last independent institution of the judiciary, faced backlash for speaking out against this practice and the increasing political pressure on judges.

Disputes between the European Commission and the Hungarian government also reached new heights. After the EU Court of Justice found that the newly introduced rule-of-law conditionality regulation is in line with EU law, the commission triggered the procedure against Hungary in April over concerns about the misuse of EU budgetary funds. In September, it proposed the suspension of €7.5 billion of the structural funds allocated for Hungary unless the government implemented a series of measures that would reduce corruption risk and guarantee the appropriate use of EU funds. Not seeing sufficient progress by November, the commission and the Council of the EU upheld the freeze, although the suspended amount of the structural funds was reduced to €6.3 billion. Furthermore, disbursement of the suspended funds and the release of Hungary’s share in the Recovery and Resilience Facility supporting post-COVID recovery was made conditional upon implementation of 27 “super milestones.” These include anticorruption measures and steps to address concerns about judicial independence. The next review of the government’s progress is set to take place in 2023.

  • 1“Hungary, Parliamentary Elections and Referendum, 3 April 2022: Election Observation Mission Final Report”, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 29 July 2022,

header4 At-A-Glance

The government of Hungary continues to display autocratic tendencies, frequently abusing the special legal regime (“state of danger”) and exploiting vulnerable groups, especially sexual minorities. Elections are free but not fair, with an uneven playing field disadvantaging opposition parties. Civil society organizations face recurring pressure from the government, and smear campaigns against government-critical voices are increasingly common. Media pluralism is undermined as progovernment outlets dominate the market and public media fail to fulfill their public-service function. Municipalities continue to struggle financially due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising energy prices, and the government’s discriminatory support scheme that favors Fidesz-led municipalities. Additionally, local competences have shrunk due to government attempts at centralization. Judicial independence remains at risk as the government strengthens its grip via political appointments to high offices. Although the government has started to introduce anticorruption measures under the influence of the European Commission, these moves were deemed insufficient to address concerns as of year’s end.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 3.003 7.007
  • The “state of danger,” a special legal regime introduced by the Hungarian government in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, continued into 2022. The law allowing government decrees issued during the state of danger to remain in force beyond the 15-day constitutional limit was expected to expire by June 1.1
  • On May 24, amidst the war in Ukraine, the government adopted the tenth amendment to the Fundamental Law, allowing the declaration of the state of danger in the event of war or humanitarian catastrophe in a neighboring country.2 At the same time, the government passed an amendment to the Disaster Management Act, enabling rule by decree once a state of danger is declared on the newly introduced grounds.3 That same night, the government declared the state of danger due to war in a neighboring country.4 The parliamentary majority subsequently prolonged the validity of the decrees issued under the state of danger beyond the constitutionally stipulated 15 days, ultimately allowing them to stay in force well beyond 2022.5 In light of this legislation, the extension and the state of danger are now expected to expire in June 2023.6
  • The beginning of the year was dominated by electoral campaigns ahead of the April parliamentary elections. The governing parties Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz) and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) ran together, while the six main opposition parties—Democratic Coalition, Dialogue, Hungarian Socialist Party, Jobbik, Momentum, and Politics Can Be Different—agreed to cooperate.
  • The electoral campaign was overshadowed and influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The opposition centered its messages around re-democratizing Hungary; reforming social, education, and healthcare policies; and strengthening the country’s ties with its Western allies.7 By contrast, the governing parties ran a campaign accusing the opposition of trying to drag Hungary into the war;8 they also portrayed Péter Márki-Zay, the opposition’s Prime Minister candidate and independent mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, as a puppet of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, playing on lingering negative sentiments against him. Because of the war, Fidesz’s planned campaign topic—the LGBT+ issue and its so-called child protection referendum (see “Electoral Process”)—took a back seat. Ultimately, the election brought victory again to the governing coalition (see “Electoral Process”). Fidesz and KDNP secured a parliamentary majority and formed the government in May for a fourth consecutive term.9
  • Throughout the year, the government continued to pursue an exclusionary agenda, targeting vulnerable groups, particularly sexual minorities. Although the government’s anti-LGBT+ referendum received less attention due to the war, the issue remained salient the entire year. With no reversal on the homophobic elements of the previous year’s anti-pedophilia law, the European Commission sued the Hungarian government at the Court of Justice in mid-July.10
  • The government also deepened its connections with far-right actors throughout the year. In May, Fidesz hosted the first European spin-off of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest,11 and a few months later, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gave an opening speech at CPAC in Dallas, Texas.12 Several of the prime minister’s speeches echoed far-right rhetoric, signaling his ideological radicalization.13
  • Notorious for its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the Hungarian government was forced to revise some of its policies when faced with a wave of Ukrainian refugees beginning in February. Having dismantled the Hungarian asylum system starting in 2016, the government was unprepared and ill-equipped to provide appropriate support to Ukrainian refugees.14
  • Investigations into Hungary’s potential use of Pegasus spyware, which came to light in the summer of 2021,15 continued throughout 2022. In January, the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) concluded that the state had not breached any existing laws and regulations regarding its possession and usage of the spyware.16 However, the Hungarian practice of surveillance is problematic in and of itself: carrying out surveillance depends on authorization by the justice minister, and there is no independent judicial control built into the system.17 This is a cause of concern as the new government continues to centralize control over the intelligence services under the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office and Minister Antal Rogán.18
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 4.004 7.007
  • Elections to the National Assembly (parliament) in Hungary took place on April 3, along with a nationwide referendum on child protection initiated by the government. The coalition of Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz) and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) won the parliamentary elections, securing a two-thirds majority with 135 seats. The parties of the democratic opposition that ran on a joint national list as “United for Hungary” performed poorer than anticipated. The extreme right Our Homeland Movement, contesting for the first time in national elections, managed to enter the parliament. Similarly, the German minority gathered enough votes to secure a preferential mandate.1
  • In light of assessments of the 20142 and 20183 parliamentary elections as “free but not fair,” and the subsequent lack of action to address its recommendations, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) called for a full election observation mission (EOM) to the April elections, which consisted of 18 long-term and 200 short-term observers beyond OSCE’s core team.4 Hungarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also advocated for a full EOM.5 The European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) deployed an observation mission of a similar size.6 To support balanced oversight of the election proceedings, civil society organizations (CSOs) mobilized and trained polling station delegates across the country (see “Civil Society”).
  • ODIHR concluded that the elections and the referendum organized on the same day were “well administered and professionally managed but marred by the absence of a level playing field.”7 Regarding the campaign, ODIHR noted that public television provided only five minutes of airtime to Péter Márki-Zay, the opposition’s prime minister candidate, during the entire campaign to present the opposition’s program, and opposition parties were often portrayed negatively in public media. Meanwhile, the governing coalition misused its position to campaign via state channels, blurring the line between party advertising and government information campaigns. Progovernment media under the auspices of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) also spread the governing parties’ messages (see “Independent Media”). Due to the lack of restrictions on third-party campaigning, and the exemption of social media advertising from campaign finance rules, progovernment organizations like Civil Unity Forum–Civil Union Public Benefit Foundation (CÖF-CÖKA) and Megafon were able to promote the government’s messages without financial constraints.8
  • Additionally, the ODIHR report took note of complaints submitted to the National Election Commission (NEC). It criticized the commission for not conducting sufficient examination or providing consistent reasoning, and for failing to impose sanctions even when violations were identified. For example, the NEC’s dismissal of claims about alleged destruction of ballots in Romania and alleged improper delivery of ballots in Serbia left the postal vote without sufficient oversight. Although the NEC found that in certain cases personal data were misused for campaign purposes, such as texts with unauthorized campaign materials sent to citizens’ phones, the commission did not impose any sanctions.9
  • In an interview in August, Márki-Zay revealed that his Everybody’s Hungary Movement (MMM) had received donations during the campaign from a US-registered NGO, Action for Democracy (A4D).10 Subsequently, both the government and the progovernment media accused A4D of foreign interference in the Hungarian elections.11 A4D denied any wrongdoing, but the issue was examined by the intelligence services.12
  • The government’s so-called child protection referendum, announced by Prime Minister Orbán in 2021,13 was held alongside the parliamentary elections on April 3. The intention of the plebiscite was to showcase support for the anti-pedophilia law passed by the government in the previous year, which was criticized for homophobic and anti-LGBT+ language introduced in its amendments.14 NGOs mobilized to encourage voters to cast an invalid vote in order to protest the homophobic nature of the referendum (see “Civil Society”). Totaling only 3.5 million, the valid votes did not pass the 50-percent validity threshold, thus making the result of the referendum not legally binding.15 However, the governing parties framed the referendum as a success since 90 percent of all votes were cast as they had hoped.
  • Two questions submitted for national referendums by Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony regarding construction of the Budapest campus of the Chinese Fudan University and the extension of unemployment aid were ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.16 Budapest leadership subsequently abandoned the idea of holding a referendum in the capital on the Fudan campus question; however, the leadership of the affected district, Ferencváros, kept the topic on the agenda .17
  • After fulfilling his second term, President János Áder left office in May. The new president, Katalin Novák, was elected by the governing parties’ constitutional majority in March.18 Novák was previously a member of the government and was vice-president of Fidesz.
  • The Hungarian government proposed and passed the eleventh amendment to the Fundamental Law in July. Accordingly, local and European parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously every five years.19 This change could affect the future campaign strategies of the opposition parties in Hungary. They would need to cooperate in local elections to improve their chances of winning against Fidesz–KDNP candidates, while also running on separate lists in the proportional system for European parliamentary elections.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 4.004 7.007
  • Strikes and protests marked the year as teachers advocated for improved working conditions and higher wages in public education, amidst growing inflation and increased salaries of other public employees, such as the armed forces. However, the teachers’ demands, voiced by the Hungarian Teachers’ Union (PSZ) and the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ),1 went unheard. As calls for strikes grew in the beginning of the year,2 the government used its extraordinary power under the state of danger (see “National Democratic Governance”) to pass a decree in February3 that limited teachers’ right to strike. Civil disobedience ensued among educators across the country4 as unions challenged the decree at the Constitutional Court (CC).5 After the CC dismissed the unions’ case,6 they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).7 Nevertheless, the restriction on teachers’ right to strike was put into law.8 Opposition politicians appealed to the CC, but their case was also dismissed.9 To support teachers, students organized protests,10 which intensified in the fall and winter11 after the firing of several high school instructors for engaging in civil disobedience.12 The Minister of Interior, responsible for education, eventually met with the teachers’ representatives in December, but the consultation brought no breakthroughs, and the teachers’ union demanded the minister’s resignation.13
  • State pressure continued against government-critical voices. At the beginning of the year, Magyar Nemzet, a progovernment daily newspaper, ran a series of articles14 aimed at discrediting journalists and experts working in think tanks and NGOs. The articles used excerpts from conversations recorded under suspicious circumstances and edited to echo conspiracy theories furthered by the government.15 Despite what appears to have been a covert operation using intelligence methods to frame the targets, government channels amplified and disseminated these progovernment stories.16
  • Ahead of the government’s so-called child protection referendum, several civil society organizations encouraged voters to cast an invalid vote (see “Electoral Process”).17 As a result, 16 NGOs were fined by the NEC for their campaign, with the NEC arguing that such campaigns prevented the true expression of people’s will and was contrary to the purpose of the referendum.18 The organizations challenged the NEC’s decision at the Curia, which sustained their appeal in three out of five cases19 but dismissed the other two and maintained a fine against one NGO.20 Despite a further appeal against this judgment, the Constitutional Court upheld the NEC’s decision.21
  • Based on a 2021 law,22 the State Audit Office (SAO) requested in May 2022 that thousands of organizations provide information on their internal financial rules and procedures. Watchdogs argue that the move is a continued attempt to put pressure on organizations that are critical of the government.23
  • To support the integrity of the parliamentary elections and provide more balanced oversight of election day proceedings, CSOs recruited and trained thousands of volunteers to join electoral committees as party delegates in polling stations across the country.24 This mobilization campaign sought to ensure that not only the governing parties but also opposition parties were able to send a sufficient number of delegates to all polling stations, something lacking in previous elections.
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.003 7.007
  • The Hungarian media landscape continued to be dominated by progovernment outlets operating under the umbrella of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA).1 In September, Gábor Liszkay, who previously managed outlets connected to Fidesz and cofounded KESMA, returned to lead the foundation’s board.2
  • Public media continued to fail in fulfilling their public-service function. In March, investigative portal Direkt36 published a series of leaked documents and email correspondence revealing not only government influence on the editorial work of the Hungarian Telegraph Office (MTI), the public news agency of Hungary, but also internal censorship of reporting on issues sensitive for the governing parties and certain connected businesses.3 Despite NGOs and opposition politicians initiating an investigation into issues at the Hungarian Media and Communication Authority and the Media Council,4 no direct actions were taken in response.
  • In a consequential ruling, the Constitutional Court decided in favor of the NGO Menedék in a case that was launched in 2018 against the public broadcaster MTVA. The ruling stated that MTVA had aired untruthful statements made at a press conference about the organization without verifying the facts or requesting comments from the NGO.5
  • In April, the National Media and Communication Authority announced that, due to recurrent irregularities, it would not extend the license of Tilos Rádió, a non-profit independent radio station, which was to expire in early September.6 Although the radio indeed went off the air in September,7 it reapplied in an open tender the same month and succeeded in regaining its frequency as the sole applicant.8 Another government-critical station, Klubrádió, which lost its frequency the year before and had operated online since,9 also reapplied for its original frequency but lost out to a competitor that is now authorized to use the frequency for 10 years.10 The European Commission launched an infringement procedure in the case of Klubrádió in 2021, and referred the case to the Court of Justice in July 2022.11
  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there were numerous challenges regarding reporting and access to information, which were not remedied in 2022. Due to a ban issued by the Ministry of Human Resources, apart from public media, journalists were not allowed on the premises of hospitals and other health institutions to report on the pandemic. In February, the Metropolitan Court of Budapest ruled this ban unlawful,12 but within days, the government had overruled the court verdict by decree,13 authorizing the Operational Group (charged with managing the country’s pandemic response) to decide how health institutions would communicate with the press.
  • As part of measures adopted in response to the European Commission’s criticism under the conditionality regulation (see “Judicial Framework and Independence” and “Corruption”), the government adopted an amendment in October to the rules on access to information of public interest.14 The amendment ends the practice of charging the costs of fulfilling data requests to the applicant and the potential 90-day deadline to fulfill requests, which were introduced during the pandemic. However, watchdogs argue that these changes do not address other practices used by data owners to avoid making data public, such as data classification.15
  • The publication of diplomatic cables in June revealed that Hungarian embassies monitor and regularly report back to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry with information on journalists’ trips to other European countries.16
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 4.254 7.007
  • In 2022, there were fewer changes to local self-governance in Hungary compared to previous years, but financial difficulties remained a problem. Local governments struggled with mounting utility costs while still dealing with the economic consequences of the pandemic. Revenue reallocations and tax cuts, introduced by the government in response to COVID-19, were still in force in 2022. Among these measures was the halving of the local tax for small and medium-sized businesses, which constitutes one of the most important revenue sources for local governments.1 It is expected that local governments will regain their pre-pandemic competences over their revenues in the coming year.2 Yet, at the beginning of 2022, overall losses for the year among cities with county rights were already estimated to be above HUF 100 billion,3 although the government promised to compensate municipalities for the losses in local business tax over the course of the year.4
  • Rising electricity and gas prices put an additional strain on municipalities, which were caught off guard by the government’s decision to exempt them from a universal energy rebate starting in August.5 As a result, local governments may face skyrocketing utility costs, potentially rising more than tenfold, while companies providing local public services are also expected to take on debt.6 With little to no flexibility in reallocating budgetary resources to cover rising costs, municipalities, especially the capital Budapest and smaller localities, are faced with mounting debt. Without state support, many will become insolvent.7 The government’s decision to fix district heating prices at a high level at the end of September, adopted without prior consultation, put further burdens on local governments who rely on this service.8 In November, a government decree conferred on municipalities the power to decide when and to what extent to provide public lighting,9 shifting responsibility onto local governments to manage their energy consumption amidst rising prices. The Alliance of Hungarian Local Governments criticized the move and instead called for reduced prices and government support.10
  • The government nominated György Balla in early October to negotiate with municipalities of over 10,000 inhabitants for individual bailouts. Authorities also requested a management plan from all to showcase how local governments would seek to reduce their costs.11 Since the management plans must take stock of savings and municipal assets, some commentators worry that the state might push local governments to sell assets before providing support.12 Furthermore, Balla oversaw negotiations regarding compensations during the pandemic, which were distributed in a highly politicized manner, overwhelmingly supporting Fidesz-led municipalities at the expense of opposition-led ones. Thus, there were worries that the situation might repeat itself. Negotiations with individual municipalities continued throughout the last quarter of 2022, but representatives of interest groups—like the Alliance of Hungarian Local Governments or the National Association of Local Governments—complained about the process’s lack of transparency and predictability.13
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 4.004 7.007
  • Recent changes to the organizational system of administrative courts entered into force on January 1, 2022,1 and a newly established Administrative Chamber of the Budapest Metropolitan Court of Appeal was operational starting March 1.2 The purpose of the new chamber, according to the official explanation, was to relieve the Curia (Hungary’s supreme court) from the growing burden of administrative cases and to return to a structure similar to before the 2020 restructuring.3 Judges with prior experience in administrative cases had only until January 10 to request their transfer to the new chamber with automatic approval. But given the short deadline and lack of consultation prior to the adoption of the legislation, it is doubtful that judges were widely informed about the possibility.4
  • The National Judicial Council (NJC) found in July that several nominations made by Zsolt András Varga, president of the Curia, during his first year in office were not in line with legal requirements. In 5 of 11 appointments, Varga had selected a lower-rated candidate instead of the top performer, raising suspicions about politically motivated nominations.5 The European Commission also raised concerns about the practice.6
  • Over the summer, it was revealed that Varga’s wife, Helga Mariann Kovács, was nominated to a high-level position at the Budapest Court of Appeal despite receiving less than half the support of the rival candidate.7 The president of the court defended the appointment, and Varga published a statement emphasizing that he had no influence on the nomination.8 Kovács remained in the position and leads a chamber that also deals with politically sensitive cases regarding privacy rights, press corrections, public interest, appeals against delays in proceedings, and cases involving NGOs.9
  • After an official visit with the recently appointed US Ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman, two members of the NJC were subjected to media attacks demanding their resignation. The head of the Curia had strongly criticized them for the meeting, even though the NJC as well as the Hungarian Chamber of Lawyers stood by the two judges.10 The NJC, which is considered the last independent institution of the judiciary, has been outspoken about increasing political pressure on the judiciary.11
  • In March, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) officialized its 2021 proposal to downgrade the Hungarian Ombudsperson from an A to B rating after no remedial measures were taken by Hungarian authorities.12 This downgrade stemmed from the Ombudsperson’s lack of engagement in the defense of vulnerable groups and certain fundamental rights, and the office’s avoidance of politically sensitive cases.13 The downgrade also reflects the office’s lack of independence.14
  • The failure of Hungarian authorities to provide protection for vulnerable groups is also reflected in Hungary’s treatment of asylum seekers. In 2022, the state lost multiple cases launched by asylum seekers at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), confirming previous malpractice and the unlawfulness of Hungary’s pushbacks at the Serbian-Hungarian border.15
  • In April, the European Commission launched its first procedure against Hungary under the conditionality regulation (see “Corruption”).16 The commission’s rule-of-law report published in July highlighted past concerns, including over the independence of the judiciary.17 Although the procedure did not address judicial independence per se, the commission upheld its earlier pledge to deny Hungary access to Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) resources in the absence of judicial reforms. The commission adopted the government’s recovery plan by the end of the year, but it made disbursement from the RRF conditional upon satisfactory and complete implementation of 27 so-called super milestones. These include increasing the powers of the independent NJC, reforming the function of the Curia to limit risks of political influence, and removing the role of the Constitutional Court in reviewing final decisions by judges upon the request of public authorities.18 The commission will continue to monitor the situation in Hungary in the coming year.
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 2.753 7.007
  • According to the March 2021 report by the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), Hungary remained noncompliant with the majority of GRECO’s recommendations concerning corruption risks in the judiciary, state prosecution, and the parliament.1 The Third Interim Compliance Report on Hungary published in September 2022 showed only minimal improvement.2
  • The latest European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) annual report recommended the repayment of 0.69 percent of all EU structural and agricultural funds spent in Hungary between 2017 and 2021 due to evidence of misuse. This is lower than the recommendation in the previous annual report but is still the second highest rate among EU member states.3
  • Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Hungary 77th out of 180 countries surveyed. With this rating, Hungary is thus considered the most corrupt country in the EU.4
  • Concerned by the misuse of EU funds and the state of the rule of law in Hungary, the European Commission in April triggered its rule-of-law procedure against Hungary under the conditionality regulation.5 After months of negotiations with the government, the commission suggested in September the suspension of €7.5 billion of the structural funds allocated for Hungary in the 2021–27 budgetary period unless the government implemented a list of 17 measures by November 19.6 These measures aimed at reducing corruption and guaranteeing the appropriate use of EU funds in Hungary, which include the establishment of the Integrity Authority, a new national anticorruption body, and the creation of an anticorruption working group as a monitoring and advisory body composed of both state and civil society actors. Additionally, the measures called for broadening the scope of cooperation with OLAF, amending legislation on public procurement and the operation of state asset management foundations, facilitating access to information of public interest (see “Independent Media”), and creating a monitoring and integrity directorate at the ministry in charge of regional development. After finding the government’s initial reforms unsatisfactory, the commission affirmed its earlier concerns7 and the Council of the EU eventually suspended €6.3 billion of Hungary’s structural funds in December, with their release conditional upon the further progress of reforms.8
  • Hungary’s access to the post-COVID Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) also came into question due to the concerns over the rule of law. In a move linking issues over structural and recovery funds, the commission incorporated the 17 anticorruption measures into a broader list of so-called super milestones that Hungary must meet in order to access the funds (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”).9
  • After a lengthy court procedure, details of the HUF 750 billion ($2 billion) Chinese-Hungarian loan agreement for modernization of the Budapest-Belgrade railway remain unknown. In October, the Curia concluded that the Chinese partner’s request to keep the details confidential was a justifiable reason for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to classify the loan agreement.10
  • A 35-year contract for the operation and development of highways and public roads was granted in May to Themis, a private equity fund connected to Lőrinc Mészáros and László Szíjj,11 who are widely regarded as government-friendly oligarchs. The fund is expected to receive over HUF 5,500 billion before 2059 for the operation of Hungary’s road network and new construction. Although the government refused to share the documents supporting such a decision, the courts ordered otherwise.12 The European Commission is examining whether the concession aligns with EU law.13
  • In October, the public prosecutor pressed charges against the head of the Bailiff’s Chamber György Schadl, former state secretary of the Justice Ministry Pál Völner, and 20 other individuals for bribery and abuse of office. This case is the highest-reaching corruption scandal under the Orbán governments to date, and remained unresolved at year’s end.14

Author: Zsuzsanna Végh is a researcher and PhD candidate at the Chair of Comparative Politics of the European University Viadrina, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and an associate researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations. She holds MA degrees in international relations and European studies from Central European University and international studies from the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

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    69 100 partly free