Rule of law in Hungary: Parliament should ask Council to act, say committee MEPs

Victor Orban 2018

From left to right: Mr Donald TUSK, President of the European Council; Mr Viktor ORBAN, Hungarian Prime Minister. Shoot location: Budapest – HUNGARY. Shoot date: 22/06/2018 . Copyright: European Union

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.

Hungary is at clear risk of a serious breach of EU values and the Council should intervene to prevent it, the Civil Liberties Committee said on Monday.

MEPs called on EU member states to initiate the procedure, foreseen in Article 7(1) the EU Treaty, for determining whether there is  a systemic threat to the EU’s founding values, as enshrined in EU Treaty Article 2. These include respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The draft proposal for a Council decision to trigger an Article 7 procedure, which the committee approved by 37 votes to 19, still needs to be endorsed by Parliament as a whole. This would be the first time that Parliament exercises its right of initiative with regard to Article 7.

Any risk of breaching those values, as reflected in the EU Charter of Human Rights, has an impact on the other member states and the mutual trust between them, says the text. MEPs note that the situation in Hungary has a negative impact on the image of the Union, as well as its effectiveness and credibility in the defence of fundamental rights, human rights and democracy globally.

Parliament’s main concerns refer to the following areas:

  • the functioning of the constitutional and electoral system,
  • the independence of the judiciary,
  • corruption and conflicts of interest,
  • privacy and data protection,
  • freedom of expression,
  • academic freedom,
  • freedom of religion,
  • freedom of association,
  • the right to equal treatment,
  • the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma and Jews,
  • the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and
  • economic and social rights.

The resolution recalls that Hungary’s accession to the EU, which requires respect for and the promotion of the values included in Article 2, was “a voluntary act based on sovereign decision, with a broad consensus across the Hungarian political spectrum”. It also stresses the Hungarian authorities’ readiness to discuss the legality of any specific measure, but regrets that “many concerns remain”.

Quote

Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL), who drafted the report, said: “We are dealing with a serious situation which needs to be dealt with instantly. We stand up for the rights of the citizens of Hungary and European values in the EU. The time given to the Hungarian government has worsened the situation. That is why Parliament is stepping in.”

Next steps

The proposal for a Council decision will be put to a vote by Parliament as a whole  in September. To be adopted, it needs the backing of an absolute majority of MEPs, i.e. 376, and two thirds of the votes cast.

Background

The Civil Liberties Committee was tasked in May 2017 with studying the situation in Hungary, with a view to activating Article 7(1) of the EU Treaty. In its plenary resolution of May 2017, Parliament stated that the situation in the country justifies triggering the procedure, which may result in sanctions for Hungary, including temporary suspension of its voting rights in the Council.

This would be the first time that  Parliament takes the initiative of recommending that Article 7 be triggered, in view of a serious threat to the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in a member state.

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