It’s time to leave Hungary for a while. Nothing horrific is happening there since the parliament is not in session and Viktor Orbán is in Brazil. So, it’s time to see what’s going on in Brussels where Jean-Claude Juncker has been making the rounds to solicit votes. He goes from parliamentary delegation to parliamentary delegation and tells them what they want to hear.
For example, he told the 70-member Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) that he is not a federalist and that he does not believe in a United States of Europe. One must keep in mind that the members of this parliamentary group come mostly from British conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice party, which ideologically stands close to the far right. He emphasized the need for strong nation states and stressed that the European Union stands on the principle of subsidiarity, that is the principle of devolving decisions to the lowest practical level. He said that he does not want to compete with NATO and assured them that in his cabinet there will be no commissioner of defense. On the other hand, he is not ready to abandon the notion of free movement of people within the Union, which is a bone of contention at the moment between Prime Minister David Cameron and the EU. He also expressed his full support of the common currency as a prerequisite of a strong economic union.
A few hours after the meeting the head of the British contingent of ECR announced that they will not vote for Juncker because they consider the shift in the voting venue from the European Council to the European Parliament itself a significant move toward a closer union, which they object to.
The socialists (Alliance of Socialists and Democrats/S&D) received assurances that a socialist will be appointed commissioner for growth and stability. Here Juncker indicated that he is in favor of a new transaction tax on banks. He talked about the minimum wage, social policy, and renewable energy. In brief, the kinds of things the left likes to hear.
He also visited the Greens/European Freee Alliance. Here he complained about some heads of member states who paint a false picture of the European Union. I wonder whom he had in mind. He was also critical of the handling of the economic crisis in Europe. There is a need for financial discipline but not overly aggressive austerity measures. From here on, any kind of austerity program will be preceded by an assessment of its social impact.
It was during this conversation that we found out what Juncker actually thinks of Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian regime and its relationship to the European Union. One of the members asked him how he would handle a state like Hungary where the government does not follow the basic democratic values of the European Union. Juncker did not mention Hungary specifically but indicated that he will be ready to use Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). To refresh everybody’s memory, this is what Article 7 of TEU says:
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 European 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.
The obligations of the Member State in question under the Treaties shall in any case continue to be binding on that State.
Juncker added that until now the European Union acted as if Article 7 didn’t exist. They must be ready to use it if there is just cause.
Most members of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats will vote for Juncker, which will ensure his election. In his own party, the European People’s Party (EPP), there will be a few who will not vote for him–among them, the twelve Fidesz members. There will be two more “nays” from Hungary: Benedek Jávor (Együtt-PM) who joined the Greens and Tamás Meszerics of LMP who sits in the same delegation. Meszerics found Juncker, on the basis of the hearing, “not fit for the job.” The two Hungarian socialists, István Ujhelyi and Tibor Szanyi, and the two DK members, Csaba Molnár and Péter Niedermüller, stand behind Juncker. As for Fidesz, it will be the only national delegation that will unanimously reject Juncker.
The vote is tomorrow, and it is almost certain that Juncker will have the necessary 376 out of 751. I assume the Fidesz members of EPP are resigned. The victory of Juncker was pretty much decided when David Cameron and Viktor Orbán lost the battle in the European Council. Napi.hu heralded the event: “Tomorrow will come Orbán’s slap in the face.”