10th Dec 2023

EU: Ukraine war makes internal rule-of-law fight essential

  • MEPS said 16 NGOs who campaigned against the referendum on LGBTI issues in Hungary were now facing fines totalling €24,000 (Photo: Maria Komarova)
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Hungary has said the EU should demonstrate solidarity and unity while the war is raging in Ukraine — instead of focusing on policing internal rule-of-law breaches.

But top EU officials have defended ongoing procedures against both Hungary and Poland, over concerns of judicial independence and democratic backsliding.

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"We are sufficiently mature as democracies… to debate issues that have to do with our model and are as essential as fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in parallel of that profound strength of the unity facing this war, " French minister for EU affairs, Clément Beaune, said Tuesday (12 April), after a meeting with his counterparts in Luxembourg.

EU ministers discussed the state of rule of law in Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Malta and Austria, which were raised in an annual report prepared by the EU Commission last year.

But Hungary received special attention, since the country is also under the so-called Article 7 sanctions procedure — together with Poland.

Hungary has agreed to resume dialogue over rule-of-law issues, of which the justice system, the framework to tackle corruption, the media landscape and institutional issues related to checks and balances remain a "concern," EU commissioner for justice Didier Reynders said.

Budapest suspended its participation in the rule-of-law dialogue until the Hungarian elections, where nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán's ruling Fidesz party secured early this month another majority in parliament.

But Hungary's justice minister, Judit Varga, previously pointed out that the EU should be focused on wartime unity rather than on highly controversial rule-of-law standards.

"We should focus on topics that unite us, instead of those that drive a wedge between us," she said on Tuesday, ahead of the meeting.

Reynders, for his part, argued that the war in Ukraine shows "how important it is to promote the rule of law and to protect it within the European Union."

Last week, the commission finally launched the bloc's new rule-of-law mechanism for the first time against Hungary — which could trigger sanctions, such as suspending EU funds.

But the formal decision still has to be taken by the college of commissioners.

In parallel, the commission has decided to withhold the approval of the recovery plans of Poland and Hungary over rule-of-law concerns.


Also on Tuesday, MEPs from the parliamentary intergroup on LGBTI rights slammed the Hungarian government for suing NGOs who campaigned against a referendum on LGBTI issues — which took place the same day as the elections and ended up being invalid.

A total of 16 NGOs are facing fines, totalling €24,000, EU lawmakers said.

"This highlights why the values of the EU such as democracy and fundamental rights are under siege in Hungary," said centre-right MEP Maria Walsh.

Walsh said that it is imperative that the Article 7 sanctions procedure leads to results. This procedure could result in the suspension of Hungary's voting rights.

The EU Commission is taking Budapest in front of the EU's highest court, the European Court of Justice, over a law that the EU executive says is discriminating against LGBTI people.

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In a surprisingly massive win, Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán, Russian president Vladimir Putin's closest EU ally, has secured another majority in Sunday's general election against a united opposition.


Orbán, Ukraine, Putin and Hungary's election

By pursuing Putin as a close ally in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, Orbán alienated himself from all other European leaders. Now, he should continue to distance itself from Putin and those linked to him.

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The European Commission has pledged to support investigations into potential war crimes in Ukraine — following reports of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha, Irpin, and other Ukrainian cities.

MEPs urge EU not to relax policing rule-of-law amid war

European lawmakers debated the lack of progress in the EU sanctions probe against Poland and Hungary, and warned Russia's invasion of Ukraine should not be a reason to turn away from rule-breaking within the bloc.


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