Friday

18th Jan 2019

Juncker rebukes Hungary's EU commissioner

  • The Navracsics letter might have been self-defence against Hungary, pundits say (Photo: European Parliament)

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has rebuked Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s EU commissioner, for toeing Budapest’s line in EU affairs.

The rebuke comes after Navracsics objected to the commission’s registration of a European Citizens Initiative which criticises Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Juncker reminded Navracsics that, as a commissioner, he must remain neutral and not represent the interests of his home country.

Navracsics, who has the education and culture portfolio, wrote a letter to fellow commissioners last week before they enrolled the citizens inititative at a college meeting from which he was absent.

The initiative, called Wake up Europe!, calls for the commission to trigger the “article 7 procedure” against Hungary for breaches of “fundamental EU values.”

It says the Orban government has acted in a way that is “antidemocratic, xenophobic and contrary to founding principles of the rule of law.”

Article 7 can result in sanctions if “serious and persistent breach of EU values” is established.

The college of commissioners recognised the initiative as legally valid, but did not make any comment on its merit.

The organisers must still collect 1 million signatures from at least seven EU states to force the commission to respond to its appeal. But if Navracsics had been present at the meeting, he could have blocked the recogntion of its validity.

Navracsics' letter said he finds it difficult to accept the college should take such a sensitive step when he is absent. He also challenges the legal basis of the registration.

But this week, Juncker sent a letter to Navracsics, seen by EUobserver, saying that, under Article 17.3 of the EU treaty, “commissioners must not defend the view of the government that proposed their appointment, but must be solely committed the general interest of the Union.”

The article states the commissioners “shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government or other institution, body, office or entity.”

Juncker adds that it's his “prerogative to bring certain issues to the attention of the college.”

The 24 November meeting was the last date for the commission to take a decision on the citizens initiative before faling foul of a two-month deadline.

Juncker also reminds Navracsics, who was at a Council meeting on the day, of his duty to attend college meetings. “Even a justified absence is therefore no reason not to discuss an item in the weekly meeting of the college,” he writes.

EUobserver reached out to Navracsics, but he did not want to comment.

Fit for purpose

A popular university teacher of political science, he previously served as Orban’s justice minister and foreign minister.

When MEPs grilled him last year they said he is fit for the EU job. But, amid criticism of Orban’s abuse of parliament and of rule of law, they took away the “citizenship” segment of his portfolio.

“Commissioners are supposed to be independent, they do not represent their country of origin, and they do tend to maintain a neutral position,” Paul Ivan, senior policy analyst at the European Policy Center, a think tank in Brussels, told EUobserver.

He added there are some limits to that “since they are politicians and they are the ones in the college who are most well informed about their own country.”

Rare in public

The Juncker and Navracsics letters were not meant for public consumption and bad tempered exchanges between commissioners and their boss rarely get out into the open.

“Even if issues happen [with regards to a commissioner’s independence)], they don’t necessarily come out in the public sphere,” Ivan said.

“Navracsics’s letter could also serve him to defend himself from any possible criticism from Hungary that he didn’t stand up for his country.”

Focus

Hungarian PM breaks ranks on Juncker

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will not support Jean-Claude Juncker's bid to become president of the European Commission even if the European People's Party wins the European elections.

MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

The EU parliament's internal chiefs have so far refused to introduce mandatory training on dealing with sexual harassment. MEPs have now asked for it again.

Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret

A number of centre-right MEPs are pushing for a secret ballot on a plenary vote that would make EU lawmakers more transparent and accountable to the public - in a move described as "absurd" by Transparency International.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Germany led way on EU human rights protection
  2. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  3. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  4. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  5. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  6. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  7. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  8. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us