Thursday

30th Jun 2022

Opinion

Time to suspend Orban's EU voting rights

  • Budapest - we it owe to the Hungarians and to ourselves to act (Photo: Axel Buhrmann)

The EU is not only experiencing an economic crisis.

Even more worryingly, it is suffering a democratic crisis in its member states, including, among others, Hungary.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Since the arrival in power of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his conservative party Fidesz, Hungary has gone through a set of dramatic changes to its legal system.

Not only has the Hungarian parliament adopted a new piece of legislation almost every day, among them some highly controversial laws which have restricted media freedom.

It has also adopted a new constitution, which despite being described by Orban as "solid as granite," was already been amended four times, showing the instability and unpredictability faced by Hungarians every day.

This has all been made possible by an electoral law which enables the parliament to change all rules by a two-thirds majority.

Having a political majority should not mean riding roughshod over the minority, but taking their views onboard.

However, Orban has seen his party's political majority not as a responsibility, but as an opportunity to consolidate its grip on the state, media and judiciary.

International and European institutions, civil society and human rights organisations, opposition parties, and even the United States have closely scrutinised and criticised the gradual "Orbanization" of Hungary.

The last straw was the adoption on 11 March by the Hungarian parliament of a fourth amendment to the constitution, ignoring requests by EU institutions to delay the changes until the Venice Commission - a Council of Europe expert body composed of former constitutional judges - had given its opinion.

This decision flies in the face of Hungarian Constitutional Court rulings and criticism from the Venice Commission over a large number of controversial laws, which have now simply been inserted directly into the constitution.

These include the possibility of criminalising homelessness, a restrictive definition of family, a ban on political advertisements in the commercial media and strict state control over religious establishments (which violates freedom of religion).

Other new measures include linking state grants for students to an obligatory period of domestic employment after graduation, as well as the abolition of the autonomy of universities and higher education institutions in financial matters.

Many of these measures had previously been rejected by Hungary's Constitutional Court.

But now, the court has had its powers radically curtailed, impeding its ability to review the constitutionality of amendments to the constitution and restricting its powers in relation to budgetary matters.

Finally, the fourth amendment has also threatened the independence of the judiciary, meaning that the Fidesz-appointed president of the National Judicial Office now has the last word over which court tries which case.

The Liberal (Alde) group in the European Parliament has strongly criticised this new set of amendments.

We have called for a debate during our plenary session of April. And I have called on the European Commission and Council to activate Article 7 of the EU Treaty to start the procedure to determine if there is a "clear risk of a serious breach" by Hungary of the European values of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights that we all subscribe to.

If there is a "serious and persistent breach," Hungary would be invited to submit its observations and the European Council could decide by qualified majority to suspend certain rights, including voting rights.

Far from being a "nuclear" option, as it is often described, this is a formal procedure that is available to handle such situations if the political will to use it is there.

Let me be very clear.

I believe that we are far beyond the "risk" situation. We are clearly faced with a "breach" that is persistent and systematic.

I intend to call on the European Parliament to initiate the Article 7 procedure. And in particular I urge the European People's Party (EPP) to support such a procedure.

In effect, as a two-thirds majority is required in the parliament, the final decision will be in the hands of the EPP of which Fidesz is a member and Orban is a vice-president.

In recent days an anti-Semite journalist and an extreme right-wing musician have also been honoured by Zoltan Balog, the Hungarian minister of human resources.

Enough is enough.

I call on all those of us in Europe who believe that our continent is built on a set of common values and fundamental rights, who believe that the Union is only as strong as the principals it adheres to itself and who recognise that the time has come to take firm measures to stop the drift of Hungary away from democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.

We owe it not only to the Hungarians, but to Europe itself.

Guy Verhofstadt is a Belgian MEP and the leader of the Liberal Alde group in the EU parliament

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

German politicians outraged at Orban's Nazi jibe

German politicians from across the political spectrum have expressed their outrage after Hungary's Viktor Orban compared Angela Merkel's policies to the Nazi invasion ordered by Adolf Hitler.

If Russia collapses — which states will break away?

Increasingly, analysts — both inside and outside of Russia — are considering the possibility of the Russian Federation's collapse into a series of independent states. Who are the most likely candidates for secession in Russia's south, east, and centre?

The euro — who's next?

Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.

Column

China's support for Russia challenges Europe's Peace Order

China's soft support to Russia is deeply troubling for Europe. Here is the EU's biggest trading partner signalling that it is on the side of Russia, its aggression, and its challenge to the post-war international order.

Sturgeon's 2023 'referendum' gamble for Scotland

The independence campaign launch featured a new Scottish government report, comparing the UK's economic and social record with those of other European states — and arguing, unsurprisingly, that Scotland should be independent as a result.

News in Brief

  1. EU announces trade deal with New Zealand
  2. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit
  3. Russia urges Nato not to build bases in Sweden, Finland
  4. New president for European Committee of the Regions
  5. Gas flows from Spain to Morocco, after Western Sahara row
  6. BioNTech, Pfizer test 'universal' coronavirus vaccine
  7. UK sanctions second-richest Russian businessman
  8. Hungary permits emergency supervision of energy firms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  3. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  5. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers

Latest News

  1. Israel smeared Palestinian activists, EU admits
  2. MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship
  3. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  4. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike
  5. EU's post-Covid billions flowing into black hole
  6. Nato expands and reinforces on Russian flank
  7. EU Commission says it cannot find messages with Pfizer CEO
  8. EU ministers sign off on climate laws amid German infighting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us