April 21, 2013
After having a short overview about the controversial political developments in Hungary 2010-2013, the questions emerge: shall Europe be really ready for confrontations with Hungary? Did the country really put basic European values and fundamental EU principles to the test? And what added-value can a non-aligned Hungarian qualified lawyer, former Hungarian EU-presidency member add to this?
Hungarians recently demonstrated their maturity to the EU membership by completing a “Schumann-price” winning EU presidency called ‘Strong Europe’ in 2011, which resulted – among others – the adoption of the EU Roma Strategy which marked a new stepstone in the EU Roma policy and the conclusion of the EU-Croatia accession negotiations. Nevertheless, in spite of those remarkable improvements, the country’s political decisions has been under permanent scrutiny by the EU since 2010, the adoption of the controversial media law.
European countries like EL, CY, PT, ES, IT, IE, SI, SK, BG, RO are in deep crisis – Hungary(HU) is the next in the row
Several EU eurozone member states – most notably Greece(EL), Cyprus(CY), Portugal(PT), Spain(ES), Italy(IT), Ireland(IE) – witnessed either economic and political turmoils recently. Rumours are growing about the future bailout of Slovenia(SI) and Slovakia(SK). The recent collapse of the Bulgarian(BG) government and the antidemocratic tendencies in Romania(RO) shew that the crisis went farther to the borders of the monetary union. Hungary (HU) was put to the European dunce’s sear after the adoption of the the new Constitution in the middle of its EU presidency in 2011.
The European Parliament and Hungary
This is not the first case that Hungary is on the menu of the European Parliament. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had to face critics in respect of the Constitution in January 2012. Following that debate, the European Parliament put political pressure on the country when it adopted its resolution B7-0095/2012 by a thin majority (+315/-263) on 16 February 2012.
In the first part of the most recent debate on 17 April 2013, the rotating Irish EU Presidency took its usual stand: without having a clear mandate, it took a neutral position.
Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship (on the photo) listed the past and possible future breaches of EU law by Hungary.
In the second part of the debate, the discussion shew the usual distinction between the different political groups. The European People’s Party (EPP) – the Hungarian rulinging party Fidesz is affiliated with – maintained its political support in spite of the expressend concerns.
What was the main political message of the debate: a yellow light.
This debate was pre-mature in the sense that the expected detailed reports of the involved European bodies (European Commission and the European Parliament from the EU and the Venice Commission from the Council of Europe) were not ready, yet: they are expected to be ready only in June 2013. But the fact that this debate still happened marked the political importance of the case. Taking note of this, my contribution would be to cover two essential elements of the delicate situation: the need for facts and arguments (1) and the dangers of the Article 7 procedure (2).
(1) “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes politics.”
In her recent publicistic, Enikő Győri – the Hungarian state minister for European Affairs, who played a flagship role in the Hungarian EU presidency – argued for the need for a constructive debate where arguments should be based on facts. I can subscribe to her opinion: political decisions are too often based on emotions, instead of facts and detailed arguments.
Also in his recent post, Ferenc Kumin – Deputy State Secretary for International Communication – gave a feedback about the European Parliament debate on 17 April 2013 and most improtantly, he published some arguments in respect of the factual basis of the Constitutional debate. This is a piece worth for reading even for those who do not share all of his findings.
Having said that, to remain fair and firm on principles, I may not hide my serious concerns in respect of some amendments to the Constitution. Let’s take three examples of them:
“Students are forced to remain in Hungary”
If a student went abroad at the end of her/his studies, she or he should re-pay the sum of a 5 year scholarship. Since the state cannot guarantee a payed job in Hungary, and we live in the European Union, this is a clear financial barrier which might hinder the free movement within the EU so it might breach EU law (free movement)
“Political advertising will be banned”
Democracy is expensive. And the price of the system cannot be a right argument if the fairness of the campaign would be questioned since public media is only a small part of the Hungarian media market (free and fair elections)
“Homelessness will be criminalized”
I welcome the codification of the “obligation” of the Hungarian state of providing decent housing to all. But I am afraid, this is not an enforceable right. This is the state’s (right) political programme: it cannot hinder local authorities from prohibitons and these decision cannot be challenged based on this political programme in a judicial procedure. Moreover, prohibition of homeless will just hide the problem and will tackle the symptom, not the real cause: homelessness is a social problem. Homeless people need social help and not punishment. (Human dignity)
(2) About the dangers of the ’atomic bomb’ article 7.
What is article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) is all about? What is the basis of such a procedure: the values referred to TEU Article 2.
TEU Article 2
“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
(It is worth to mention here: the reference to minorities – withouth having the word ‘national’ in the article – was the success of the hard work done by the Hungarian delegation in 2003-2004 during the European Convention and the Intergovernmental conference about the new EU Constitution – which turned into the treaty of Lisbon)
Thus, in case of the existence of a serious and persistent breach of these values, article 7 contains the detailed procedure to be applied. Individual Member States, the European Parliament and the European Commission either may launch such a procedure.
TEU Article 7
“1. On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2. Before making such a determination, the Council shall hear the Member State in question and may address recommendations to it, acting in accordance with the same procedure.
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.”
We should be very cautious when considering the use of this ’ultimate weapon’ within the hand of the EU.
Firstly, it never happened in the history of the Union and I am not convinced that this would be the best opportunity to use it: it could send the wrong message to the world.
Secondly, for such a harsh and firm reaction, the EU should be 110% sure about what it is doing. And although I consider some parts of the 4th amendment of the Hungarian Constitution controversial, I do not think that this punishment would be the most appropriate answer. In other words: Hungary is still a democracy.
Last, but not least: its serious impacts would reach far beyond even of the desired aims. The suspension of voting rights may insolate even more Hungary and it could turn the entire Hungarian population against the whole European project.
Freezing structural funds and financial support from the EU to a country being in deep social and ecobomic crisis can have catastrophic social and economic implications and could punish those who suffered the more so far: the Hungarian population – especially the poor – who are not directly responsible for the daily decisions of the government.
Who is on the side of European Hungarians?
There will be a short calm before an upcoming storm and clouds are surrounding above the EU-Hungary battlefield. People might ask the author before the start of this legal battle: who is right or wrong? The European Insitutions or the Government of Hungary? My answer would be quite simple: I am a European Hungarian. Who is on my side?
(Ajánlott Magyar nyelvű blogbejegyzés e témában:
14. Magyarország az EU szamárpadján? Jogosan? Vita az európai parlamentben emberi jogi szempontból)
I remain at your disposal.
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Related earlier updates:
(source of the photos © European Parliament)Zoltán Massay-Kosubek