Hungary

   

Executive Accountability

#40
Key Findings
With few checks on the powerful prime minister’s power, Hungary falls into the bottom ranks (rank 40) with respect to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Despite declining media freedom and propagandistic government-information policies, the public’s policy knowledge has actually increased, with crises particularly in education and health care leading to widespread discussions and social movements. The traditional media has engaged in self-censorship and a turn toward a focus on scandals. Social media and internet publications have gained importance.

Parliamentarians’ resources, particularly among the democratic opposition parties, are not sufficient, and oversight powers are in practice flawed. The audit office has acted relatively professionally despite its governing-party links. The ombudsman has not served as a check on the government.

The government party is centralized, with the opposition fragmented. While largely loyal to the government, some business associations have criticized economic policy. The government has set up a broad, well-financed network of false, pro-government civil-society associations and foundations.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#29

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
5
While media freedom and the access to information have declined and the government has led huge disinformation campaigns, the policy knowledge of the Hungarian public has paradoxically increased. In the fields of health care and education, the protracted crisis has provoked social movements and everyday discussions within the larger public. There has been a vivid public discourse about the situation of these sectors and the reasons for their continuous decline with poor services. Political apathy still exists, reinforced by the biased information policies of the government and the lack of transparency characterizing policymaking. However, the everyday situation is so bad in these vital fields that ordinary people discuss policy issues in detail based on direct experiences. Independent policy institutes such as Policy Agenda, Political Capital and Policy Solutions have provided detailed policy knowledge for the public at large, as have many professional NGOs.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#38

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
5
In principle, members of parliament are provided some funds for professional advice. However, since resources are apportioned according to the share of seats in parliament, the democratic opposition parties receive only a small amount of money. Moreover, these resources have not been sufficient to keep up with the Orbán governments’ hectic style of policymaking, with its unprecedentedly high number of legislative decisions. For the small and ideologically fragmented opposition, it has thus has been rather difficult to monitor the government’s legislative activity. However, activities on the part of the Fidesz majority in parliament and its committees which preclude effective debate and monitoring, constitute the key obstacle to effective parliamentary work.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
5
Traditionally, parliamentary committees in Hungary enjoyed far-reaching access to government documents. However, the new standing orders of the Hungarian parliament, as adopted under the 2012 Act on Parliament, do not regulate the access of parliamentary committees to public documents. The Orbán governments have used their parliamentary majority to restrict access to public documents, even for discussion within parliamentary committees.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
6
The standing orders of the Hungarian parliament stipulate that ministers have to report personally to the parliamentary committee(s) concerned with their issue area at least once a year. However, they do not guarantee parliamentary committees the right to summon ministers for other hearings as well. Since Fidesz lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority in autumn 2015, however, ministers have appeared more often in parliamentary committees.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
9
According to the standing orders of the Hungarian parliament, all parliamentary party groups can invite experts, and the sessions of the committees are open to the public. In practice, however, Fidesz’s overwhelming majority and the hectic pace of legislation have reduced the involvement of experts to a mere formality. The real policy discussions, if any, usually take place not in the parliamentary committees but in the media or at conferences organized by opposition expert groups or NGOs.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
4
The reduction in the number of ministries (originally to a total of nine) has not been accompanied by a reorganization of parliamentary committees. The result has been a strong mismatch between the task areas of ministries and committees. The fact that ministries have been covered by several committees has complicated the monitoring of ministries. Moreover, the real decision-making center, the PMO, is not covered by any parliamentary committee at all.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
6
The Hungarian State Audit Office is accountable only to the parliament. The Orbán government has used its parliamentary majority to take control of this body by appointing a former Fidesz parliamentarian to head the institution, and also by replacing the vice-president and other top officials. Nevertheless, the Audit Office has monitored part of the government’s activities rather professionally in some detail. In an unprecedented move in autumn 2017, the government brought the Audit Office to start an investigation into the alleged fiscal irregularities of Jobbik, an opposition party which has become rather influential because of the huge support by Simicska.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
7
Hungary has an Ombudsman of Basic Human Rights, elected by parliament. Unlike its much-respected predecessor, the acting ombudsman, László Székely, has not served as a major check on the government and has not become an important public figure. The Ombudsman Office (AJBH) has been rather busy in small legal affairs such as the protection of children’s rights, but it has not confronted the government about serious violations of civil and political rights.

Media

#36

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
3
The Hungarian media landscape has undergone two different processes in the last years: depolitization and scandalization. Depolitization is the result of a new type of self-censorship, caused by the attacks of the government and their representatives on the press and civil society organizations. Scandalization is the result of polarization. The sharp polarization of political life in Hungary has facilitated a replacement of in-depth analysis by a preoccupation with scandals, whether real or alleged. There is relatively little in-depth analysis of government decisions and the performance of the government in the government-controlled public media, or in those private outlets close to Fidesz. As a reaction to the government’s attempts at controlling the media, social media and internet editions of established print publications have gained in importance. The independent policy institutes and some expert based NGOs have regularly published policy analyses that have been widely discussed in the opposition media. The mass demonstrations, as well as the deepening rift within Fidesz, stemming from regular corruption scandals and provocative luxurious consumption habits, have elevated the significance of media reporting. The print media, including the tabloid press, such as Blikk, have been important in discovering the big scandals and policy failures. In the period under review, the significance of online media – Index, 444, HVG, Átlátszó, Kettős Mérce and even some right-leaning websites like Mandiner – has grown tremendously because they have been decisive in revealing the government’s behind-the-scene activities. The websites of professional NGOs have also been very active and are closely followed by journalists.

Parties and Interest Associations

#40

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
4
Intra-party democracy has been a rarity in Hungary. Although regulations for electing party leaders and for establishing candidacies for national, regional and local elections are formally in place, they do not play a dominant role in intra-party democracy. In the two most popular parties at the moment, Fidesz and Jobbik, the president of party is almost almighty. Fidesz is completely controlled by its president, and by pushing the transformation of Jobbik to become a moderate party forcefully, Gábor Vona has also become the strong leader. Among the left parties, MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and Együtt (Together) are democratically organized and have a weak leadership, whereas DK (Demokratikus Koalíció) is dominated by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and P (Párbeszéd) show a reasonable degree of intra-party democracy which reflects their origins as social movements.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
4
While the main domestic business associations have proved generally loyal to the government, some business associations, first of all the National Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers (VOSZ), have become rather critical of the government’s lack of predictability in economic policy. Ferenc Dávid, its general secretary, has been the most outspoken critic of the government’s economic policy. Moreover, the Orbán government has been criticized by the Hungarian European Business Council (HEBC). Representing Hungary’s 50 most important export companies, HEBC in its latest Annual Report has urged the elaboration of a country strategy with the deep reconstruction of education system, taking the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the digital transformation into account. The trade unions have also adopted a critical position toward the government, but their membership is small (somewhat below 10%), they are still rather fragmented, and their voice is weak in the public debates. More recently, however, successful strikes for higher wages have helped to increase membership.

Citations:
HEBC (2017): Annual Report 2016. Budapest (http://www.hebc.hu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/hebc_report_2016_values_to_be_sustained.pdf).

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
3
The Orbán government has created a big, lavishly financed pro-government network of fake civil society associations and foundations. In public life they have figured allegedly as independent and autonomous organizations, although they clearly support government positions and provide it a democratic façade. A series of scandals have arisen as it has become clear that these organizations have received financing from state-owned enterprise, but only some illegal-indirect party financing has become public. Szerencsejáték Zrt (Gambling or Gaming) has been the main sponsor, but the latest scandals have been around the Hungarian Electricity Works (MVM), which has given HUF 508 million to CÖF (Civil Union Forum), and HungaroControl has given HUF 320 million to the Unions for the Nation Foundation (Szövetség a Nemzetért Alapítvány), which in turn supports the House of Citizens (Polgárok Háza), itself a common venue for Fidesz events, including Prime Minister Orbán’s annual address to the nation. By contrast, Hungary’s genuine civil society has suffered from decreasing financial support and the pressures of legislative limitations. This has clearly infringed upon their capacity to formulate relevant policies.
Back to Top