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24th Feb 2024

Hungarian PM defends death penalty debate

  • Hungary's PM blamed the EU for the influx of economic migrants (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban on Tuesday (19 May) brushed aside mounting international criticism against state discussion on migrants and the possible reintroduction of the death penalty.

“Not everything is inscribed in stone. These rules are created by men and can therefore be changed by men. This is freedom, this is democracy,” he told MEPs at the Strasbourg plenary.

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The prime minister in April said capital punishment should be kept on the agenda in Hungary despite an EU-wide ban.

He said Hungary is not making any formal moves to reintroduce it but said there is no EU law that bans them from discussing such issues in public.

His conservative government, which in recent years has been at the receiving end of sharp criticism from the European Parliament and the European Commission, has also equated the migration crisis with terrorist threats.

Last month, Orban announced plans for a “national consultation” on immigration and terrorism. The consultation is part of a larger legislative initiative to detain and return irregular migrants and asylum seekers.

The questions ask people to agree or disagree with statements such as “economic migrants jeopardise the jobs and livelihoods of Hungarians” and if “mismanagement of the immigration question by Brussels may have something to do with increased terrorism.”

Orban on Tuesday reaffirmed his hard stand against plans by the EU commission to impose a quota system on asylum seekers and refugees.

“I think it is insane to propose letting in all immigrants into Europe and then introducing some artificial quotas on how to divide them between member states. Quotas are only going to bring more people to Europe, it is an incentive for human traffickers,” he said.

The nuclear option

But Frans Timmermans, the EU’s vice-president, was having none of it.

He said any plans to reintroduce capital punishment would trigger the EU Treaty's article seven procedure, which can lead to the suspension of a country's voting rights in the EU Council.

“If the Hungarian government were to take steps to reintroduce the death penalty, let me underline, that the commission is ready to use, immediately, all the means at its disposal to ensure that Hungary complies with its obligations,” he said.

“We will not hesitate one second on a such a case.”

He noted that article two of the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits any person from being condemned to death or executed.

“The abolition of the death penalty is a condition, which states are required to meet in order to become members of the Council of Europe or of the European Union,” he said.

Timmermans noted that Hungary’s public consultation on migrants is based on bias and on misleading questions.

“[It] can hardly be considered a fair and objective basis for designing sound policies,” he said.

“Framing immigration in the context of terrorism, depicting migrants as threat to the livelihoods of people, is malicious and simply wrong.”

Centre-right defends Hungary

But for his part, German MEP Manfred Weber, who heads the centre-right EPP group, pointed out that Hungary’s 2.8 percent GDP growth is putting it “in Europe’s driving seat.”

He said the figures, and Orban’s repeated victories at the ballot box, shows it is doing better than many of the “left-governed countries in Europe.”

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party is a member of the EPP.

Despite the praise, Weber said there is no question of capital punishment ever being reintroduced.

“Any talk about it [death penalty] is dangerous and damaging,” he said.

The Council, representing member states, said it had no position on the matter.

Opinion

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