Monday

17th Dec 2018

EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure

  • Austrian EU minister Gernot Blumel and Hungary's EU state minister Szabolcs Takacs on the sidelines of the meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Discussions on the rule of law in Hungary and Poland among EU countries have descended into polemics over procedure.

EU affairs ministers gathered in Brussels on Monday (12 November) to discuss the latest developments over the two sanctions procedures launched against Poland and Hungary.

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

  • MEP Judith Sargentini want to participate in the council's hearings on Hungary (Photo: European Parliament)

The so-called Article 7 procedure was triggered by the EU commission against Poland a year ago, while the probe was launched in September by the European Parliament against Hungary, whose prime minister Viktor Orban has run anti-EU campaigns and become a model for far-right leaders around Europe.

Both countries have also had run-ins with the commission over migration.

Under the Article 7 procedure, member states - by a majority of four-fifths - can determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values. EU member states can then issue recommendations and, in the final phase, could decide unanimously to launch sanctions such as suspending voting rights.

But sanctions are unlikely to happen in either the case of Poland or Hungary, as both have pledged to veto punishment on the other.

Against this political deadlock, EU ministers have been struggling to proceed with the two cases, in which member states have already held two hearings with the Polish minister.

Hungary's case is even more complicated, as it was triggered by the European Parliament, which some EU countries view suspiciously as a federalist institution interested in grabbing power from nation states.

Lost time

On Monday morning, Dutch Judith Sargentini, the MEP in charge of the report on Hungary, presented her assessment to representatives of member states, along with other lawmakers from the parliament's civil liberties committee.

While all EU countries were present, not all sent the minister or ambassador, and some, such as Poland, were represented by lower-level diplomats dealing with technical issues, emphasising that this was not an official meeting of EU countries.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Sweden were present at ministerial level, according to a statement by the committee.

The EU council's legal team has said the parliament has no role in council meetings, so the member states decided to hear from the rapporteur outside of the council format.

Sargentini argued that the European parliament should have a role in the procedure on Hungary as it was the institution that triggered the Article 7 sanctions procedure.

Sargetini's report, which was adopted by the vast majority of MEPs including Orban's political European People's Party family grouping, detailed concerns about Hungary's constitutional and electoral system, the independence of the judiciary, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, rights of asylum seekers and minorities.

After the meeting, Sargentini in a statement criticised EU countries for stalling the process while trying to figure out how to involve the parliament.

"The time spent on this is lost, while we see further deterioration of academic freedom and the undermining of judicial independence in Hungary," she said, adding she expects to be invited to a formal council meeting.

Hungary pushed back against giving the parliament the floor at the council meeting, while Greece has argued for inviting the MEP to address the council, according to an EU official.

Only Germany's state minister for Europe, Michael Roth, made a political comment during the official meeting of ministers, calling it unacceptable that Hungary's government uses EU funds for its anti-EU and anti-migration campaigns, according to the source.

Szabolcs Takacs, Hungary's state minister for EU affairs told reporters after the meeting that the "Brussels pro-migration elite" is attacking Hungary because its citizens don't want migrants in their country.

"There is a struggle between the forces supporting migration and those that are against. Hungary is a target because it does not support illegal migration," he said.

Hungary also argued that the EU commission did not see sufficient risks to the rule of law to start the sanctions procedure, as it did in the case of Poland.

The Hungarian government has distributed its written assessment of the issueamong other member states, but it is not yet clear how member states would deal with the issue at the ministers' next meeting in December.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans summed up the EU executive's ongoing probes into some of the Hungarian government's measures, such as targeting the Central European University in Budapest, founded by US billionaire George Soros, and threatening NGOs that deal with migration.

Poland case

Ministers made little progress on Poland as well, sources said.

Timmermans summed up the pending court case against Poland for attempting to put the supreme court under political control.

The EU's top court introduced interim measures over the issue, calling on Warsaw not to implement changes to the supreme court, and reinstate judges who were let go due to the new retirement rules. On Friday, EU judges will discuss the interim measures.

The European Court of Justice is only expected to deal with the actual case on the supreme court from the commission in early next year.

Poland said it would instruct amendments to the original law that is forcing some of the judges to retire, a development Timmermans called worrying, as he called for the court's measures to implemented without delay.

"A court decision needs to be implemented and can be implemented," Timmermans said after the meeting.

Poland to face EU top court on rule of law

The EU commission is expected to refer Poland to the EU's top court over firing supreme court judges, but Warsaw refused to commit on Tuesday that it will implement future EU court rulings.

EP triggers sanctions procedure, Hungary calls 'fraud'

The parliament launched a sanctions procedure against Hungary in an unprecedented vote that required a two-thirds majority from MEPs. Hungary is calling the vote a "fraud" and a "petty revenge" for its hardline migration policy.

Opinion

EU foot-dragging puts rule of law at risk in Hungary, Poland

The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has yet to be heard on the forced eviction of the Central European University from Budapest to Vienna. Just months before crucial European parliament elections, EU leaders should not shy away from this debate.

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

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

Latest News

  1. Fiscal discipline rules in eurozone are devastating
  2. EU capitals see weekend of tear gas and water cannon
  3. Bulgarian 'EU passports' whistleblower wants justice
  4. No more Brexit talks, despite May's pleas
  5. EU leaders stuck on asylum reform
  6. Orban and other PMs spread fake news, says Juncker
  7. Fishing quota and no-deal Brexit preparation This WEEK
  8. Kosovo has right to own army, Germany and US say

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

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us