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15th Dec 2018

Commission registers call for EU sanctions on Hungary

The European Commission registered Monday (30 November) a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) calling for a procedure against Hungary over alleged breaches of EU fundamental values.

The decision, mainly based on legal grounds, was taken while the Hungarian commissioner Tibor Navracsics was npt present. Navracsics, who is from the Fidesz, the party of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, protested in a letter to his fellow commissioners.

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The Wake up Europe! initiative asks the commission to trigger the so-called article 7 procedure against the government of Viktor Orban.

Article 7 of the treaty on European Union states that sanctions can be taken against a member state in case of "serious and persistent breach of EU values".

"Since it came to power in 2010, Viktor Orban's government has multiplied measures that are antidemocratic, xenophobic and contrary to founding principles of the rule of law," the initiative states.

"Furthermore, the unacceptable treatment of migrants by Hungarian authorities leads one to fear that such action spreads to other member states where democratic culture is recent and fragile", the text says.

"The college of commissioners discussed the legal admissibility of the proposed ECI on 24 November and concluded that the legal conditions for the registration of the ECI were fulfilled," the commission said in a statement.

'Atomic bomb'

The promoters of "Wake up Europe!" have 12 months to gather at least million signatures in at least 7 EU countries before the content of the petition can be examined by the commission.

"The college has not analysed the substance of the initiative at this stage," the commission's statement said.

But the initiative "created a stir at the commission," Pierre Galland, one of the people who launched the initiative last winter, told EUobserver.

"We know that the issue went up to the highest level," said Galland, who is president of the European Humanist Federation, a Brussels-based NGO.

"When we alerted the commission about our initiative, we were told that article 7 is the atomic bomb. The commission did not want to use the tools it has at its disposal."

While the initiative was notified to the commission on 29 September, the EU executive waited until the last day of the 2-month deadline to register it.

When the college of commissioners' discussed the admissibility of the initiative, its Hungarian member was not around the table in Strasbourg because of a Council meeting in Brussels.

In a letter seen by EUobserver, Navracsics, the education and culture commissioner, writes: "I would like to raise my strong objection concerning the adoption of a proposed citizens intiative by the college at its meeting on 24 November 2015"

Navracsics, who is a former deputy prime minister to Orban also writes that the ECI is a "highly political issue" and that "its implications are much broader than the actual initiative at stake".

Parliament's pressure

"Wake up Europe!" is not the first initiative to put the commission under pressure to open an article 7 procedure against Hungary.

In June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution asking the commission to present a proposal for the opening of a procedure.

On Wednesday (2 December), justice commissioner Vera Jourova will be questioned by MEPs about the progress made by the commission on the matter since the vote of the resolution.

"I'm curious to hear what the commissioner will say," Galland told EUobserver.

Galland said he has been in contact with MEPs "from all political groups who are concerned about the respect of democratic standards in Europe" and that he hopes MEPs will relay the petition in their countries.

"We want the petition to create a civic mobilisation," Galland said, "because while the initiative was only about Hungary when we launched it, we see the same phenomenon now in other countries."

Analysis

Orban 'vindicated' by EU refugee crisis

Hungary's Viktor Orban feels vindicated by a shift to the right in EU migration politics, but more populism and razor-wire fences could pose "a challenge" for the Union.

Juncker rebukes Hungary's EU commissioner

Exchange of bad tempered letters sees Juncker tell Navracsics to stay neutral, after Hungarian commissioner objects to Hungary-critical initiative.

EU wrong to block anti-trade petition, court says

The EU Court of Justice ruled the European Commission lacked legal basis when it refused to register a European citizens' initiative signed by more than three million people.

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