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Unfair elections

Cseres' research focuses on unequal power relations in Europe and how the law can control those power disparities. 'Economic and political power are closely intertwined,' she explains. This is evident in the media landscape. 'What news do you read? An informed citizen must have access to diverse media and a plurality of voices. If that is not the case because the media providers are part of a single concern, it comes at the expense of media pluralism in a country.'

According to Cseres, this can be seen well in Hungary, the country where the Associate Professor grew up. ‘You only hear one voice in the Hungarian media, and this lack of media plurality certainly played a role in the elections. In 2018, a foundation was established that merged nearly 500 media outlets into one single media conglomerate, and you could see the result of this concentration in the 2022 election results. People were interviewed who didn't even know there was an opposition. You may have free, but certainly not fair elections. In Hungary a lot is said about the rule of law, but little about economic concentration, while the two are mutually reinforcing each other.'

Complaints

How can the law control and contain these unequal power relations? This is where the rules of competition law come into play, concerning merger control and the abuse of power. Competition law should ensure that there is good and healthy competition between companies. It also offers consumers protection against abuse of economic dominance.

But it doesn't stop at theory. 'My research has been transformed into complaints submitted to the European Commission several times.' One of these complaints was about the takeover of Vodafone Hungary by the state and another telecom company. The government qualified the takeover as being of ‘national strategic importance’, exempting it from control by the competition authority that is supposed to ensure healthy competition. 'In Hungary, mergers systematically bypass competition control mechanisms. You see this in mergers of media and telecom companies. Then the question to the EU is: why not act when a member state systematically undermines competition law? If economic power remains unchecked, that also leads to political power.' It's hard to compete with that.

If economic power remains unchecked, that also leads to political power

Political loyalty

'People are powerless. You live in a country governed by a small group of people with economic power. People don't easily go to the streets to demonstrate in Hungary, but there are still a number courageous civil society organizations.’ Cseres is also doing her part. She is working on a new complaint on behalf of 4 independent newspapers. The newspapers are struggling due to a lack of state advertising, which is an important economic source. ‘But it is difficult to prove that other newspapers get more ads because of their political loyalty to the Hungarian government. Access to information is a big problem and the government's creative legal constructions make it difficult to gather evidence.'

Responsibility

The expanding power is very much affecting people's lives. 'There is a culture of apathy about everything political. It's sad: everyone is really fed up with politics. I also asked myself what my responsibility is as a researcher. I can write, talk and share knowledge freely. People I know in Hungary do not have that luxury. You can be critical, but what will you do if you don't have a job tomorrow? This is how economic and political power work together. In the Netherlands, I feel relatively safe. I want to do my best to contribute to a solution. I can be a voice for those who cannot speak freely. It is a luxury to be able to speak out.'