A long road from the “Schuman-price” winner Hungarian EU Presidency to the possible suspension of voting rights
March 13, 2013
Hungary is one of the most mysterious country in Europe. Our Asian origin is as strange for most of the Europeans as our almost inexplicable Finno-Ugric language. Is Hungary on the right track? Why is the country in the centre of international and European critics? Which is more important: Europe or Hungary?
The right answer – at least for the last question – is a ‘both’. Being a Hungarian citizen living in EU capital Brussels, I am proud both of my Hungarian origins and my European values. And this duality goes along with all of the governments actions from 2010 until recently.
(on the photo: the magnificient Hungarian Parliament in Budapest © Zoltán Massay-Kosubek)
Hungarian historical traumas and glories
They who would like to better understand the Hungarian point of view, should start absolutely with our history: a long road has been led from the Hungarian invasion ( „A sagittis Hungarorum libera nos, Domine!”) until the foundation of a Christian state in the middle of Europe. Hungary suffered from Mongol and Turkish invadors, finished 2 world wars on the losing side, lost 2/3 of its territory and was occupied by the communist Red army. However, the country did not give up: in 1956, it witnessed its love of Freedom during the Hungarian Revolution and its border opening in 1989 paved the way to the fall of the iron curtain and the re-unification of Germany.
2010 – Landslide electoral victory and new Media law
The very first reason of all international and European critics is the simple existance of a ‘supermajority’ of the ruling EPP-affiliated Fidesz party in the Hungarian Parliament (see my picture taken from the middle of the Danube above). Fidesz was provided with a 2/3 majority in April 2010 after a lanslide electoral victory, which is enough to either modify any times the constitution or write a new one. We remember well, that in 2010, after the rule of 8 years previous socialist governments, the crisis hit country was close to financial collapse and Hungary urgently needed in depth reforms. Nobody could have had doubts in that time that the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would choose the latter option.
Nonetheless, before doing so, the first Hungarian law which caused international tensions was the Media law, which allowed the ruling Fidesz party to nominate its own candidates at the top of the Hungarian media authority. Do you still remember the harsh speech of MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the European Parliament? As a result, with the votes of the left-majority, the European Parliament condamned Hungary with its resolution of 26 February 2012.
2011 – ‘Schuman-price’ winning Hungarian EU Presidency and new Constitution
At the first half of 2011, as member of the Hungarian EU Presidency team, I witnessed how could a small but well-prepared team proof for Europe the high professional qualities. Hungarians are not only famous for their Nobel-price winner scientists but also for their high performance. While I was in Geneva and tried to co-ordinate the EU Member States actions within the WHO in April and May 2011, our presidency made adopted the European Roma Strategy and finished the Croatian accession negotiations at the very last day (30 June). As a recognition of our achievments, some European diplomats proposed a ‘Schuman-price’ for the country.
On the other hand, the Hungarian Parliament elaborated and adopted a new controversial Constitution. I can honestly tell you that although there were fundamental changes in specific areas (ex. preambule or the inclusion of the European Charter of Human Rights into the text) the constitutional framework basically remained the same. However, according to the new changes, (early retirement of judges, extra-long mandate for some appointed leaders, restriction of the role of the Constitutional rules) the protection of the Human Rights was questioned again by international players. This time, the government took seriously the international critics, and PM Orbán personally went to Strassbourg to defend the new Constitution against the critics.
2012 – IMF bailout talks and further restriction of Human Rights
As the country’s economic situation worsened due to the euro crisis, the government wanted to start negotiations with the IMF. However, this time was already open ‘economic freedom war’ between Hungary and Europe: the European Commission had been blocked the start of the Hungarian-IMF negotiations due to its concerns of breaching European law for a long while. The Prime Minister came again to Brussels and this time, I could personally follow his presentaton in Brussels about the reasons behind the Hungarian ‘unorthodox’ economic policy.
Meanwhile, an international legal mistake (delivering an axe-murderer to Azerbaijan) and further restriction of Human Rights (criminalisation of homeless people) marked 2012 which again opened the possibility for international critics.
2013 – Further Constitutional changes and restrictions
Due to the above mentioned developments, the international perception of the country remained very negative (Wrong way on the Danube). And this year, more specifically this week, the Hungarian Parliament passed the Rubicon by voting further restrictions on Human Rights into the Constitution: not only the Council of Europe shared its concerns but also the United States: “The United States shares the concerns expressed by the Council of Europe about proposed amendments to the Hungarian constitution.”
One Hungarian NGO explained the adopted changes as follows:
“- criminalizing homelessness
– the possibility of university contract that mandates state-funded students to work in Hungary after graduation;
– the elimination of universities’ financial management autonomy;
– the exclusion of life partners without children and same-sex couples from the definition of family;
– the possibility of limitations on the freedom of speech;
– a limitation on fair elections;
– the further limitation on judicial independence;
– the regulation that damages separation of Church and State, and discrimination among religions;
– the nullification of 22 years of decisions handed down by the Constitutional Court;
– additionally, the idea that the government majority can write whatever it wishes into the Fundament Law because future amendments cannot be reviewed by the Constitutional Court from a substantive viewpoint.” Source: A város Mindenkié – The City is for All!
This can explain what happened this week in the European Parliament: Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister, and leader of the Liberals in the European Parliament openly called upon for the suspension of the country’s voting rights in the Council by using the procedure described in the famous TEU article 7 in his recent speech in Strasbourg:
Revocation of the right to vote in the Council
2. The European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2, after inviting the Member State in question to submit its observations.
3. Where a determination under paragraph 2 has been made, the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council. In doing so, the Council shall take into account the possible consequences of such a suspension on the rights and obligations of natural and legal persons. (Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union)
Quo Vadis, Hungary?
We are in the middle of a process so it is far too early to make final conclusions. However, by highlighting some important elements of the past, we would be in a better position to make our positive/negative judgments. But one thing is sure: European and Hungarian identities go hand in hand. And I am sure that due to some sound worries, everybody will understand that in some cases the Constitutional changes went too far this time and in due time, there will be a correction. I am sure
Ajánlott magyar nyelvű blogbejegyzés ► Tiszta vizet a pohárba: magyar, európai és jogász szemmel az alkotmányódosításról a nemzetközi kritikák fényében
I remain at your disposal.
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Related earlier EU Hemicycle updates:EU ZMK's Diary