Friday

22nd Nov 2019

Opinion

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

  • Orban with German leader Angele Merkel (also EPP) (Photo: Consilium)

As the EU struggles to rein in some member states that are backsliding on democratic standards, a critical vote in the European Parliament next week could be a decisive moment.

The threat is real. Radical populist leaders promoting policies to dismantle human rights safeguards have recently joined governing coalitions in Austria and Italy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Poland's Kaczynski in parliament (Photo: pis.org.pl)

The Freedom Party and Lega Nord are using their positions to promote policies based on hate and intolerance. But in both countries, at least for now, complex governing coalitions make it hard for them to undo democratic institutions.

In Hungary and Poland, however, radical populist parties are in power alone. Fidesz and the Law and Justice Party (PiS) have seized the opportunity to undermine the rule of law and other democratic checks on their power.

In Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski's PiS is in the process of speeding up its purge of the country's judiciary, the last barrier against abuse by those in power, in defiance of ongoing proceedings in Brussels and Luxembourg and the outrage of many their own citizens.

People's rights to peacefully speak out and protest have been increasingly restricted.

In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban's ruling party has been pressing "reforms" to strip people of rights and freedoms that enable them to band together and make their voices heard.

For example, over the past two years the government has targeted the country's vibrant civil society and academic community, introducing a version of Russia's infamous "foreign agents" law to stigmatise human rights groups that receive funding from abroad and criminalising legitimate migration-related activities.

The government has also limited the ability of the country's constitutional court to hold the government to account.

Officials in Poland and Hungary justify these measures by citing their parties' electoral victories, but winning an election does not give any government a blank cheque to undermine human rights protections.

EU response

European governments and institutions have begun to stand up to these disturbing trends in Poland.

The European Commission triggered the EU treaty's Article 7 mechanism, which is designed to safeguard the EU's founding values.

It is now up to EU governments to ensure that the assault on Poland's court system leads to serious consequences.

However, the European response to Hungary's unabashed authoritarianism has been woefully weak.

For years, EU governments and institutions have accommodated, coaxed and warned the government of Hungary, all to no avail. Now, Orban is trying to spread his "illiberal democracy" beyond his borders.

A big test of the EU's commitment to human rights and the rule of law in Hungary will happen on 12 September.

Unlike with Poland, the European Commission has not triggered Article 7 for Hungary, so responsibility falls to members of the European Parliament. A two-thirds majority is required for action.

Sadly, many Christian Democratic parties are sitting on the fence, more concerned with preserving their dominant political position in the parliament than defending the EU's core democratic values.

Their political grouping, known as the European People's Party (EPP), is the largest in the parliament.

EPP tested

With new parliamentary elections due next year, EPP members may worry that they need Hungary's Fidesz votes to maintain their majority.

But it would be profoundly wrong for EPP parliamentarians to prioritise their grasp on power over their duty to uphold the EU's rights-based order.

Several centre right parliament members, including Austrian and Dutch Christian Democrats and Ireland's Fine Gael, have supported triggering Article 7 for Hungary.

Unfortunately, many others remain worryingly ambiguous, including members of Europe's largest centre-right parties within the EPP: Germany's 29-member Christian Democratic Union delegation, France's 20 Republicains, and Spain's 17 Partido Popular members.

It is time for Christian Democratic leaders to show where they stand. At stake is not only democracy in Hungary, but also the founding principles of the Europe Union.

Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch, a US-based global NGO. Kumi Naidoo is the secretary general of Amnesty International, a UK based global rights group.

Disclaimer

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

Hungary vote exposes EU rift on populism

MEPs will vote next week on whether to urge member states to investigate Hungary on EU values. Budapest calls it "liberal fundamentalism", with the EPP in a difficult position.

Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong

As EU foreign affairs ministers meet in Brussels, we have seen unarmed protestors in Hong Kong shot at point blank range, others bloody and beaten, and then incarcerated over the border in mainland China in prison camps.

Column

Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears

For a long time, Europe's strategic chattering class has been wondering what would happen if you took the US out of Europe's security architecture.

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament votes on new commission next week
  2. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  3. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  4. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  5. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  6. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  7. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  8. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP congress pledges 'moderate' climate solution
  2. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  3. New EU financial instruments needed
  4. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  5. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  6. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  7. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  8. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us