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 0.8 points relative to 2014.

The opposition victories in the 2019 municipal elections has revitalized many citizens’ interest in politics. The state-controlled media often does not report on events that reflect poorly on the government. Online media have gained in significance as a consequence, but many citizens do not have access to these sources.

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

The governing Fidesz party is highly centralized, while opposition parties vary in their organization. While largely loyal to the government, some business associations have criticized the haphazardness of economic policy. Trade unions have become more active. The government has set up a broad, well-financed network of false, pro-government civil society associations and foundations.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#37

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

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


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


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

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
4
Citizens’ policy knowledge has suffered from the government’s biased information policies and the lack of transparency that characterizes Hungarian policymaking. The failure of the democratic opposition in the 2018 parliamentary elections initially led to political apathy. Since the municipal elections in October 2019, however, the political interest of many citizens has increased. Fidesz-fatigue has nurtured a thirst for independent news. The new opposition leadership in Budapest might also be able to improve citizens’ policy knowledge by strengthening independent policy institutes, such as Policy Agenda, Political Capital and Policy Solutions.

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
3
The Hungarian government is certainly not an open government, since access to relevant information is very difficult even for members of parliament and much more for ordinary citizens. Hungary quit the Open Government Partnership in late 2016 because the Hungarian government had been heavily criticized for its lack of transparency and its treatment of NGOs in this forum. In December 2016, the Orbán government approved a White Paper on National Data policy that called for strengthening efforts to make public sector information available as open data. As it stands, the datasets available at the central open data portal www.kozadat.hu are limited and difficult to use. The lack of transparency was a major issue in the municipal elections in October 2019.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#39

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
The Hungarian parliament has a good library and even a small research section. The members of parliament are provided some funds for professional advice. However, since these funds are apportioned according to the share of seats in parliament, the democratic opposition parties receive only a small amount of money. This has made it difficult for the small and ideologically fragmented opposition to monitor the government’s hectic legislative activity. However, the key obstacle to effective monitoring of the government is not the lack of resources but the behavior of the Fidesz majority in parliament and its committees.

Citations:
Nikolenyi, C. (2020): The Decline of the Hungarian Legislature since 2010, in: I. Khmelko, F. Stapenhurst, M. Mezey (eds.), Strong Executives and Weak Parliaments: Legislative Decline in the 21st Century. London/ New York: Routledge, forthcoming.

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 request 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. Moreover, ministerial hearings suffer from heavy time restrictions, with individual members of parliament having only two minutes to speak.

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. While the rights are there and there are few legal obstacles to the summoning of experts, the consultation of experts does not play a major role in the policymaking process.

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 reshuffling of ministries since 2010 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 centers, the PMO and the Cabinet Office, are not covered by any parliamentary committee at all.

Media

#37

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. 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 public policies. 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 few years: depoliticization and scandalization. Depoliticization has turned to repoliticization due to the October 2019 municipal elections, while scandalization reached a new peak in 2019 due to Fidesz’s aggressive and dirty electoral campaigning. However, Fidesz has fallen into its own trap, since the real scandals have been in its corner. In general, as a new type of self-censorship has emerged due to government attacks on the press and civil society organizations, the area of the independent media has shrunken. The official media often does not report on the events that reflect poorly on the government, and since the majority of the population can reach only the state-controlled media, they are not informed of these events. 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 in the state-controlled public media, or in those private outlets close to Fidesz. 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, have been important in discovering the big scandals and policy failures. The significance of online media – Index, 444, HVG, Átlátszó, Mérce – has grown tremendously because they have been decisive in revealing the government’s behind-the-scene activities.

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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
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. Fidesz is completely controlled by its president Orbán, re-elected at the 2019 Fidesz party congress. Due to the party’s failure in the recent municipal elections, new disciplinary measures were introduced for rank-and-file members, although some leaders were also punished. Zsolt Borkai, the strongman in Győr, was excluded following a sex and corruption scandal. Among the left-wing parties, Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) is democratically organized with a weak leadership, whereas Democratic Coalition (DK) is dominated by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. The Momentum, a party of young liberal-left members, is in the process of institution-building in the spirit of party democracy. The other opposition parties are in a state of complex chaos and disorganization after the April 2019 elections. Jobbik has gone through a deep transformation and joined the common group of opposition, while the future of LMP (Politics Can be Different) is uncertain.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) 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 (Employers & Unions)
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 and legal regulations. The Hungarian European Business Council, representing Hungary’s 50 most important export companies, 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 recently adopted a much more critical position toward the government, but their membership is small (somewhat below 10%) and they suffer from fragmentation. Since early 2019, they have been more active, as the passage of the so-called slave law (Act CXVI/ 2018) in December 2018 has mobilized employees. The law has allowed owners of large factories to extend working hours and delay the payment of wages.

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 governments have created a big, lavishly financed pro-government network of fake civil society associations and foundations. In public life they have presented themselves as independent and autonomous organizations, although they clearly support government positions and provide a democratic façade for the government. A series of scandals have arisen as it has become clear that these organizations have received financing from state-owned enterprises. By contrast, Hungary’s genuine civil society has suffered from decreasing financial support and increasing legal restrictions. This has clearly infringed upon their capacity to formulate relevant policies. Nonetheless, a number of interest associations with extensive expertise exist. As a result of an infringement procedure initiated by the European Commission, the European Court of Justice will conduct a hearing on the controversial 2017 anti-NGO act, which has forced NGOs that receive Western financial support (over €21,000 annually) to register as foreign-supported agencies, as NGOs in Russia have to do.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#36

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
5
The Hungarian State Audit Office (ÁSZ) 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 other top officials. Nevertheless, the ÁSZ has monitored part of the government’s activities rather professionally. In its campaign for the 2018 and 2019 elections, the government instrumentalized the ÁSZ by bringing it to investigate the finances of some opposition parties, so as to decrease their campaign capacity. Though, among state institutions, the ÁSZ still has a fairly large amount of independence.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
5
Hungary has an Ombudsman of Basic Human Rights, elected by parliament. The Ombudsman Office (AJBH) has been rather busy in small individual legal affairs, but it has not confronted the government about serious violations of civil and political rights. Unlike their much-respected predecessors, the former and acting ombudsmen, László Székely and Ákos Kozma, both appointed by the Orbán government, have not served as an effective check on the government and have not become important public figures.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
5
The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information is responsible for supervising and defending the right to the protection of personal data and freedom of information under the Act CXII of 2011. So far, the office has not played a major role in the public debate, and there is no experience yet with the new European regulation in the field. The data protection issue has emerged from time to time at elections. It is well-known that Fidesz has collected data on the political orientation of citizens (the so-called Kubatov list on those who are supporting Fidesz) for campaign use. Rumor has it there is also a list of Fidesz’s “political enemies,” but it is unclear to what extent systematic data collection is involved in this case.
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