Corruption has become infinitely centralized in Hungary, but municipalities can set a good example as islands of transparency and thus serve the purpose of restoring the rule of law at the local level, according to presentations and panel discussions at Transparency International Hungary’s conference on 9 December held in front of a crowded house in Mozsár Bistro, Budapest.
“The centralization of power that has been built up in Hungary is not unique in the world, but it is in the European Union. Nowhere in the Union does the government, the state, and ultimately one person, the head of government, have such power. Hierarchic principles operate even where they should be excluded” said József Péter Martin, Executive Director of Transparency International Hungary, at the conference titled “Hungary: Beyond the Rule of Law? – The Role of Local Authorities and the European Union in Strengthening the Rule of Law”.
In his opening speech, Gergely Karácsony, Mayor of Budapest, emphasized that transparent operation of local governments was an essential element of the policy supported by voters on 13 October. He said, “when democracy is in crisis, not less democracy is the right answer, but more democracy.”
“Transparency is really about breaking down the information asymmetry between decision-makers and citizens,” said the Mayor of Budapest, adding that this is a joint effort of the program titled “This is the minimum!” by Transparency International Hungary, K-Monitor and Átlátszó. In line with the objectives of the program, they will seek to share all information of public interest with citizens. Details of the program were presented at the event by Miklós Ligeti, Legal Director of Transparency International Hungary.
The opening speeches of the conference were followed by a panel discussion of newly elected mayors, in which the mayors discussed the role of local governments in restoring the rule of law, with the participation of Krisztina Baranyi (Ferencváros), Zsolt Fülöp (Szentendre), Péter Márki-Zay and András Pikó (Józsefváros). The mayors also reported about corruption cases that have been revealed so far, and how many of the former have been prosecuted.
In her keynote speech, Dóra Győrffy, professor at Corvinus University of Budapest, discussed how the European Union could promote the rule of law in its member states. In her lecture, Győrffy referred to the rule of law as “one of the pillars of European identity”. Referencing various statistics, she pointed out that those EU Member States that lagged behind in the rule of law also underperform in terms of economic convergence. She also highlighted that the rule of law should not be considered as an isolated phenomenon but also as a precondition of economic growth, freedom, security, the preservation of nature and a higher quality of life which all previous factors entail.
Reflecting on the above, in the second panel discussion, Krisztina Arató, professor at ELTE ÁJK, Enikő Csontos, Deputy Head of the European Commission Representation in Hungary, Zoltán Fleck, professor at ELTE ÁJK, and Michiel van Hulten, head of the European Union chapter of Transparency International discussed how the European Union can sanction the erosion of the rule of law in its member states. “The rule of law is the basis of the European Union”, therefore, the criteria of the rule of law are not only required up to the moment of accession, but it is precisely from that point that they become really important – Michiel van Hulten pointed out during the discussion.
Transparency International Hungary would like to thank all participants for their valuable contribution and the exciting discussions, as well as for the support of the Open Society Foundations in organizing the event.