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4th Jul 2020

MEPs call for new monitoring body on Hungary

Left-wing and centrist MEPs want to create a special commission to make sure Hungary adheres to standards which made it eligible to join the EU in the first place.

“The European parliament should be compensated by a non-political body that we could turn to. This we call the Copenhagen High Level Group in order to ensure the continuity of the Copenhagen criteria,” Portuguese Green MEP Rui Tavares told MEPs in a plenary debate in Strasbourg on Tuesday (2 July).

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The proposal was part of his formal report on Hungary, with MEPs expected to endorse the text in a vote on Wednesday.

The Copenhagen criteria require candidate states to guarantee democracy, rule of law, human rights and respect for minorities.

Tavares' report notes the special commission would "issue recommendations to the EU institutions and member states on how to respond and remedy any deterioration" on EU values.

It notes that the right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made some 500 legal changes which affect the parliament, media, judiciary, electoral law, supreme court, constitutional court and the data protection authority.

Hungary has been the target of intense EU criticism for changes to its fundamental laws over the past two years.

Its antagonists say the changes have upset the rule of law and concentrated power in the hands of the right-wing elite.

“Not only the pace and scope of the changes were unusual but the general trend was a concentration of power towards the majority and the government,” Tavares said.

“The constitution alone was changed 12 times … a new constitution was made and four changes were made to this constitution in one year,” he added.

Orban attended Tuesday's debate in person to defend himself.

He called Tavares' proposal a threat to the EU because it aims to set up a "guardianship" via an institution that is not anchored in the EU treaties.

He said the special commission would upset the balance of power between EU institutions and member states.

He accused his critics of political bias.

He also told plenary that he has pulled his country out of an economic slump, cut unemployment and met EU budget deficit limits.

“The report is very unfair vis a vis Hungary, very unfair vis a vis to the people of Hungary. You are applying double standards in this report,” he said.

Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt rejected Orban's accusations on politicking, however.

He pointed to a June report by the Venice Commission - a group of former constitutional judges in the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe - on Hungary's constitutional changes.

The Venice Commission says, among other things, that Orban's "fourth amendment … seriously undermines the possibilities of constitutional review in Hungary and endangers the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

The Council of Europe later decided against opening a formal monitoring procedure on Hungary, however.

The European Commission, for its part, has taken issue with Orban for using tax hikes to offset potential EU fines.

It has also rebuked him for giving his allies new powers to switch cases from court to court and for putting restrictions on political adverts in EU election campaigns next year.

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, also in plenary on Tuesday, said: "The Hungarian authorities have offered solutions for the first two issues by proposing changes to the fundamental law."

He noted that discussions are under way to resolve the political advert dispute before the EU vote.

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