PACE

Monitoring versus “close scrutiny” of Hungary in PACE

There is a recent event I didn’t comment on: the decision of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) not to place Hungary under official monitoring. Instead it promised “to follow closely the Hungarian developments.” The provisional version of the resolution can be read on the official website of the Council of Europe (CoE).

Magnifying glass - www.clkrt.com

Magnifying glass – http://www.clkrt.com

A couple of days ago Mátyás Eörsi, a former member of PACE, wrote an analysis for Galamus entitled “The Anatomy of a Vote.” Eörsi became a member of PACE in 1994 and eventually came to be the leader of The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group. In March 2009 the Hungarian government nominated him for the position of Secretary General of the Council of Europe. He knows the workings of the Council of Europe inside out.

According to Eörsi, who still has many friends in PACE, the attitude of the European People Party’s members of PACE is more forgiving toward Fidesz than is that of the members of the EPP caucus in the European Parliament. One reason is that PACE holds full assemblies only four times a year, a week at a time. Thus, these members didn’t have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the behavior of Viktor Orbán’s government as thoroughly as the Christian Democratic members of the European Parliament did. The Conservatives (British, Russian, and Turkish) also stood by Fidesz. That the members of Putin’s party supported the Hungarian government’s case is perfectly understandable. After all, Viktor Orbán’s governing style is often compared to Putin’s. As for Tayyip Erdoğan, perhaps Zsolt Németh’s praise of Erdoğan and Turkish democracy makes more sense after the PACE vote. It may have been a gesture that was intended to be repaid by Turkish votes in the Council of Europe.

In the end, the whole Russian delegation, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and practically all other countries in East-Central Europe voted against monitoring. Since most of the countries are already under monitoring themselves, they had no desire to add Hungary to the list. In fact, what they would like to do is to abolish the whole system of  monitoring.

There were 22 amendments to the original resolution, most of which were designed to weaken it. The majority were submitted by Fidesz members. As soon as voting in the assembly began, pro-Fidesz votes poured in. According to Eörsi, the running tally was something like 170:80. But then something happened. Half way through the voting  the pattern changed radically. How could that have been possible, Eörsi asks.

We are all familiar with the parliamentary practice of voting strictly along party lines. The whip calls the shots and the members of the caucus listen to the instructions. This is also how the European Parliament functions, but in PACE the situation is somewhat different. PACE members usually vote according to the suggestions of the particular committee that prepared the proposal. In this case, the Monitoring Committee. Eörsi found out what happened in committee. At the beginning of the committee meeting the whole EPP contingent was present while a couple of socialist members were late. The first amendments were therefore voted in by the EPP majority. But then the missing socialist members arrived and suddenly there was a socialist majority. The second half of the amendments was voted down. Then came the final vote and a socialist member, the British John Prescott, earlier deputy of Tony Blair, forgot to raise his hand. The EPP members voted the proposal down.

If Eörsi’s information is correct, one can see how decisions can be reached due to happenstance. One person being late and another  forgetting to raise his hand. This particular vote is a relatively small setback for those who would have liked to see Hungary placed under monitoring, but it still counts as a victory for Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. One can take only slight comfort in looking through the list of supporters and saying that Viktor Orbán cannot be very proud of the company he found himself in. Then again….

I understand that the Hungarian government as well as the Fidesz members of PACE did extensive lobbying to avoid monitoring by the Council of Europe. It is hard to tell how effective this lobbying was, especially if Eörsi is right and voting by the members of PACE tends to follow specific committee recommendations. Of course, this wouldn’t be applicable to those countries whose members unanimously rejected the resolution, like Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Ukraine, etc. They supported the Orbán government because of their own political interests.

More important than the PACE vote will be the fate of the Tavares report in the European Parliament. The vote will take place in Strasbourg on July 2. Viktor Orbán will be there to argue his case. We will see how persuasive he is.