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EU committee report proposes procedures against Hungary

May 10th, 2013

In their comments on the Tavares report on the Hungarian Basic Law, both left and right-wing pundits deem it highly unlikely that the EU will indeed sanction Hungary.

Portuguese Green MEP Rui Tavares, rapporteur for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee of the European Parliament (LIBE), claims in his draft report that the fourth round of constitutional amendments (see BudaPost) are not in line with fundamental EU standards. According to the report, the Hungarian Basic Law compromises the independence of courts, media freedom and freedom of religion. If the European Parliament approves the draft report in its plenary session in July, the Hungarian government will have to meet the 21 recommendations it puts forward. If Hungary fails to meet them, Tavares suggests proceedings which could theoretically result in the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the Council of the European Union, which would be unprecedented in the history of the EU.

Fidesz politicians claim that the Tavares report is full of factual mistakes and misinterpretations. According to the Hungarian government, the EU is guilty of double standards towards Hungary, since the criticized constitutional rules are already well-established parts of the legal systems of other EU member states. Government spokesman András Giró-Szász suggested that the report should be seen as a politically motivated attack by Socialist, Liberal and Green EP politicians. Fidesz MEP Kinga Gál compared the recommendations to colonialist measures, which aim at curbing Hungarian national sovereignty.

MSZP leader Attila Mesterházy called upon Socialist MEPs not to support the proposal and vote against any motions implying sanctions against Hungary. He has, however, also criticized PM Orbán for “using the country as a human shield in defending his wrong-headed politics.”

Népszabadság in a front page editorial points out that even if the proposed measures against Hungary are adopted by the EP, the 21 recommendations will be watered down significantly. As a result, harsh sanctions are highly unlikely. As for the Hungarian government’s claims about double standards, Népszabadság cites Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch liberal MP, who said that the current proposal is indeed unprecedented and the EU wants to set an example through the procedure against Hungary so that it can in the future stand up for the implementation of basic EU norms.

In the same daily, Balázs Pócs points out that despite all the criticism from the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the US, the Hungarian government is unlikely to retract the constitutional amendments which Pócs considers as clear violations of democratic principles and the rule of law. The reason for this is that the government controlled Hungarian media fails to report or distorts the criticism coming from  international organizations, Pócs believes. The legal procedures proposed are also highly complicated and would take too long to conclude, he adds. The left-wing columnist contends that unless the Council of the European Union decides to take steps in defence of democratic values, the Orbán government will not reconsider its policies.

It is absolutely unlikely that the proposed resolution against Hungary will pass, István Lovas writes in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist remarks that without the support of conservative MEPs, the draft proposal will not receive the required two-thirds support. But even if it did, it would need to be endorsed by 80 per cent of the Ministers in the Council of the European Union, which is even less likely, Lovas adds. The real reason behind the Tavares draft is not to sanction Hungary, but rather to prolong debate about what the Hungarian left-wing opposition and their European allies see as a violation of democratic standards in the hope that such criticism could increase the chances of the left-wing parties at the 2014 election, Lovas contends.

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