‘The EU has a dictatorship growing inside of it,’ warns Verhofstadt over Hungary and Pegasus scandal

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MEP Guy Verhofstadt  furious at policies by Orban’s government (AFP via Getty Images)
MEP Guy Verhofstadt furious at policies by Orban’s government (AFP via Getty Images)

EU politicians and lawmakers called on Monday for “full inquiry” over the hacking of the cellphones of politicians, activists and journalists, saying the EU is infected by “dictatorship”.

Guy Verhofstadt, a prominent MEP and one of the most outspoken politicians on freedoms and law within the EU, tweeted that he is concerned “the EU has a dictatorship growing inside of it,” saying that “We need a full inquiry by the European Parliament!”

Opposition lawmakers in Hungary’s parliament have also demanded an inquiry into findings by an international investigation that the country’s right-wing government under prime minister Vektor Orban used powerful malware to spy on critical journalists, politicians and business figures.

The investigation by global media outlets suggested that military-grade spyware from Israel-based NSO Group, was used in Hungary to infiltrate the digital devices of a range of targets — including at least ten lawyers, one opposition politician and at least five journalists.  

This comes amid legal warfare between the European Commission and Poland and Hungary over LGBTQ rights, asylum rights and judicial reform, which raised concerns that the EU legal order is under threat.

But Mr Verhofstadt, the prime minister of Belgium from 1999 until 2009 and then European Parliament Brexit Coordinator until January last year, said “No more ‘deeply concerned’” in direct criticism of the EU standard long-held response to growing defiance to the EU rules.

Mr Verhofstadt was among other politicians who considered Hungary’s and Poland’s policies “incompatible with membership.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the hacking was “unacceptable”, if it proves to be true.

“What we could read so far, and this has to be verified, but if it is the case, it is completely unacceptable. Against any kind of rules we have in the European Union

“Freedom of media, free press is one of the core values of the EU. It is completely unacceptable if this (hacking) were to be the case.”

The results of the investigation, headed by the French nonprofit journalism organisation Forbidden Stories, were published Sunday, prompting worldwide condemnation of other governments that allegedly adopted similar tactics, including that of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and India. 

Forbidden Stories called this a “new global weapon to silence journalists” and claims that “at least 180 journalists around the world have been selected as targets by clients of the cyber surveillance company NSO Group”. These include reporters, editors and executives at the Financial Times, CNN, the New York Times, AFP, The Economist, the Associated Press and Reuters.

Janos Stummer, national security committee chairman in Hungary’s parliamentary and a lawmaker from the right-wing opposition party Jobbik, told The Associated Press that the surveillance described by the investigation is “not permissible in a state governed by the rule of law”.

Additional reporting by AP

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