Monday

21st Jan 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 18 year's of archives. 30 days 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.

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.

Salvini and Kaczynski - the new 'axis' powers?

Populists and Eurosceptics are slowly realising that the goal of dismantling the EU is not only unrealistic, costly and unpopular - but also deprives them of valuable opportunities to accumulate political capital and exert influence.

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

News in Brief

  1. French data watchdog gives Google €50m fine
  2. EU hits Russians with sanctions over Salisbury attack
  3. 'Don't look for answers to Brussels', EU tells UK
  4. Germany warns UK not to 'misuse' EU patience on Brexit
  5. Germany sent 8,658 asylum-seekers to other EU states
  6. Poll: Macron popularity up four percent
  7. 'Economy is broken' says Oxfam in global inequality report
  8. Vestager under pressure to allow Siemens-Alstom deal

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

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