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Photo: “European Parliament Strasbourg Hemicycle – Diliff“, by Diliff, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Hue modified from the original

Schmalenberger, Sophie. “What difference does the European Union make? The EU as resource and partner for liberal democratic NGOs in Hungary.” Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe (2020): 1-16.


In the context of rising illiberalism in Hungary, this paper sheds light on how far Hungarian NGOs experience the EU as a resource and partner in countering the domestic dismantling of liberal democracy. This issue is of academic and political relevance as the emergence of an ‘illiberal state’ within the EU’s borders does not only challenge the coherence among its members but also its legitimacy as a community of democratic states. The findings suggest that for Hungarian NGOs, the EU is a resource of limited efficiency as well as reliability. Moreover, the EU is considered as devoted to liberal democratic values at the level of “beautiful statements” but not as a strong ideological partner in concrete actions to counter Orbán’s illiberalism. However, it appears to constitute a normative horizon and thus to act as an alternative to Hungary’s authoritarian past and present.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.