What Tibor Navracsics feared has happened. The full session of the European Parliament approved a resolution expressing great reservations about Hungarian developments. The resolution, submitted by the Socialist, Liberal and Green groups and the European Left/Nordic Green Left Party, passed with 315 votes in support, 263 against, and 49 abstentions. These numbers indicate that several members of the European People Party’s caucus to which Fidesz belongs voted for the resolution of the socialists, liberals, and greens or simply abstained. According to reports they were mostly German and French members of the European People’s Party.
The resolution calls on the Hungarian government to comply with the recommendations, objections, and demands of the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and the Venice Commission and amend the laws recently adopted accordingly.
Full session, European Parliament, Strasbourg, Reuters, Photo: Vincent Kessler
The resolution specifically asks the Commission to conduct a thorough study to ensure the independence of the judiciary, in particular “ensuring that the National Judicial Authority, the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts in general are governed free from political influence, and that the mandate of independently appointed judges cannot be arbitrarily shortened.” It also mentions the independence of the Hungarian National Bank and insists that “the right of the Constitutional Court to review any legislation is fully restored, including the right to review budgetary and tax laws.” The freedom of pluralism of the media must be guaranteed; the document specifically mentions the Media Council whose membership must include all parties. The document also addresses the new electoral law. There should be an investigation of the details of the law to ascertain that it meets European democratic standards. Finally, the resolution refers to the registration of churches and their approval by a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament. In addition, the Venice Commission should take another serious look at the new Hungarian constitution.
The Hungarian media, including MTI, reported that “the resolution also instructed the conference of presidents to consider implementation of further measures, including invoking Article 7 of the treaty that could strip Hungary of its right to draw on EU funding.”
Let me pause here because the two Hungarian socialist EP members who signed the document, Kinga Göncz and Csaba Tabajdi, have a different interpretation of the invocation of Article 7 in the document.
Let me quote two important articles relevant to our discussion. First, Article 2, which justifies action against the Hungarian government.
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.
Second, here is 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.
The Council shall regularly verify that the grounds on which such a determination was made continue to apply.
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. EN 30.3.2010 Official Journal of the European Union C 83/19
The obligations of the Member State in question under this Treaty shall in any case continue to be binding on that State.
4. The Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide subsequently to vary or revoke measures taken under paragraph 3 in response to changes in the situation which led to their being imposed.
5. The voting arrangements applying to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council for the purposes of this Article are laid down in Article 354 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The resolution adopted refers only to Article 7(1). Therefore, before any suspension of voting rights or financial assistance, the Council will confer with the member state in question and will monitor to ascertain that the given government complies with the demands of the Council.
Passage of the resolution has no legal consequences, but it certainly has political ones, especially since the deadline for the Hungarian government’s answers to the recommendations of the European Council is tomorrow. According to Viktor Orbán the answers are ready to be sent. Therefore, it seems to me, Fidesz does have a point when it complains about the timing of the adoption of the resolution. After all, the Council and the Hungarian government are still “negotiating.”
My hunch is that even without the EP resolution the Hungarian answers most likely will not satisfy the European Council. Undersecretary Zoltán Kovács, who has lately been called “the international spokesman” of the Hungarian government, didn’t sound exactly conciliatory today when he acknowledged the political defeat suffered by the Hungarian government. He talked about “ideological and political motivations” that have no place in the European Council. As for the European Parliament, it is not interested “in the facts.” The Hungarian government “is ready for intelligent dialogue,” the implication being that the EP resolution doesn’t belong to what Kovács considers intelligent dialogue.
As for the specific issues between the Council and the Hungarian government, “there are some professional considerations that are acceptable while there are some which in the Hungarian government’s opinion have already been answered and there are some that are totally unacceptable.” As to the last category, he brought up the salaries of the employees of the Hungarian National Bank.
We will see what the Council’s reaction is, but I fear it will be negative.