The international NGO, once known for its fiercely independent attitude to measuring levels of corruption across the globe, has joined ranks with the European Commission in its criticism of the Hungarian government. In a press conference on Jan. 28, Transparency International Hungary’s executive director, Martin József Péter, blasted the Hungarian government for allegedly using the pandemic as a cover for introducing measures that would weaken the rule of law in the country. In its annual Corruption Perception Index, Hungary ranks at the bottom among EU countries, in a joint last place with Romania and Bulgaria.
After seemingly abandoning most meaningful criteria of independence or impartiality, Transparency International had in October 2020 published an article based on a report by one of its main financial backers, the European Commission, in which they formulated a damning opinion about the state of rule of law in Hungary.
Transparency International, instead of evaluating the above criticism as a political verdict from one of the most vocal critics of the Hungarian government, had only managed to scrutinize the European Commission report for being too lenient in the face of what they called a “systematic demolishing of the rule of law by the Hungarian Government.” Alongside Transparency International, this European Commission report evaluation was signed by several other pro-migration, left-leaning political lobby groups, such as Amnesty International, K-Monitor and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. All the above groups receive financial support from George Soros’ Open Society Funds and/or the European Commission.
While in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, published in January 2021, the top spots are reserved for countries with left-liberal governments such as New Zealand and Sweden, Hungary ranks at position 69, below countries with oppressive authoritarian regimes such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Rwanda.
On the other hand, many of the countries listed as Transparency International’s chief financial donors page struggle with maintaining the rule of law in their societies, including with mass protests, an exponential rise in organized crime and violent rioting becoming commonplace on their streets. For example, despite experiencing a near societal breakdown, and with authorities struggling to control large parts of urban areas, countries such as Sweden and Netherlands, both among the main donors of Transparency International, figure high in the rankings as the least corrupt countries in the world.
In a particularly embarrassing assessment on the 2020 Index, Estonia, with its left-wing government lead by Jüri Ratas, whose Centre Party was a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), has come crashing down after an embarrassing corruption scandal.
Since Ratas’ government came into power in 2016, they have experienced a steady rise in Transparency International’s index, moving from 22nd to the 17th place in the rankings. It will come as no surprise that the foreign ministry of the small country with the population of just over 1.3 million is one of Transparency’s main financial sponsors.
Despite its stellar performance in the Corruption Perception Index, in January this year, Prime Minister Ratas was forced to resign after police and prosecutors launched an investigation into a €39 million property investment deal, in which Ratas’ Centre Party had allegedly received illegal finances from a real estate developer. It remains to be seen how this major corruption scandal reaching into the highest echelons of government will affect Transparency International’s assessment of the country in its 2021 Index.
According to Transparency International’s assessment, the Hungarian government had exacerbated the problems with corruption by the fact “that since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic the government had invested little in social crisis management, while in numerous cases used the epidemic as a cover for the demolition of the pillars of rule of law, and for benefitting oligarchs close to the government.”
In a rhetoric reminiscent of left-wing Hungarian opposition parties, Transparency International had omitted the fact that Hungary had often been accused of populism on the basis of exactly the opposite argument, that is, its generous policies supporting nuclear families, its tax relief and debt moratoria for businesses affected by the pandemic, and most recently, its decision to subsidize the housing market and abolishing income taxes for citizens under 25.