Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán (of "illiberal democracy" fame) has called on the EU to re-open the debate over the death penalty. It seems that the growing popularity of the far-right Jobbik, which performed well in the European elections last year, has pressured Orbán’s Fidesz party into lurching even further to the right. With past controversies over meddling with the judiciary and the media, it might seem hard to imagine Orbán has much room left on his right to move into, but bringing back the death penalty is certainly eye-catching.
There is no chance of this debate gaining any traction, however, since being anti-death penalty is practically a point of continental pride (though there are days when it feels like it’s one of the few policies we have left to be proud of ). The abolition of the death penalty is enshrined in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, and it’s not simply an EU matter either - abolishing the death penalty is a key part of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is part of the Council of Europe. All of its member states, including Russia, have signed up to it, and most have even abolished the death penalty in times of war (the remaining exception to the original ban on the death penalty). The only country in Europe that still executes its own citizens is Belarus, which is hardly a role model among nations.
It’s increasingly worrying that Hungary is drifting further and further to the right. After years of Fidesz rule, it’s sadly all too easy to be jaded and cynical about Hungarian politics. The civil liberties committee of the European Parliament is looking into the situation in Hungary, and the spectre of the Article 7 procedure – which would suspend Hungary’s EU voting rights if it’s found to be in violation of the founding principles of the Union – is constantly haunting the Parliament’s debates on Hungarian politics. Whatever the merits of Article 7, in the long term lecturing is unlikely to encourage a return to a fuller liberal democracy in Hungary. Perhaps some of the debate needs to turn to the question of how to engage Hungarian voters in less authoritarian alternatives.