Brussels, May 9, 2017. On Wednesday, April 26, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans addressed the European Parliament plenary on the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary. Timmermans confirmed the launch of infringement proceedings against Hungary after the Commission’s analysis found incompatibility of the recently adopted amendments on Higher Education law, that the Young European Federalists [JEF] had denounced as a direct attack on the Central European University, with EU law. The non-partisan youth NGO JEF Europe is relieved that the Commission takes steps; however, calls on the European Commission and the European Parliament to stop waiting for the Council’s good will and to launch the Article 7 procedure.
Draft law on funding for NGOs
In his speech, Mr. Timmermans also stated his concerns about the legislation against so-called foreign funding for non-governmental organisations and announced that the Commission will closely monitor the development of the draft. In addition, Mr. Timmermans presented the different measures and actions taken by the Commission with regards to asylum law adopted at the end of March, the discriminations experienced by Roma people in the country and the latest Hungarian Government’s public consultation called ‘Stop Brussels’.
Simultaneously the European People’s Party, of which the Hungarian ruling party Fidesz is a member, opened a dialogue with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and stated its opposition to the recent political developments.
Although JEF Europe is relieved that the Commission finally takes steps to address the situation and acknowledges the restricted availability of instruments at the EU’s disposal, we are worried whether infringement procedures will actually produce timely results and safeguard European fundamental rights and values in Hungary. Furthermore, JEF Europe doubts whether relying on informal political pressure from political groups will durably solve the issues occurring in Hungary and other endangered democracies. The Hungarian recent political developments need to be considered as a whole and not only as single, isolated legal issues. What has been happening in the country since 2011, when Hungary first adopted a legislation endangering the freedom of the press and expression, is not just a story of conflicts between EU law and national law. We observe a persistent attempt from the Hungarian government to undermine democratic checks and balances and weaken the voice of critical civil society organisations and media. To achieve long-term results, we are therefore strongly convinced that the EU as a whole, represented by the European institutions, firstly, must acknowledge the systematic nature of the attacks and breaches in the European values and secondly, should adopt a coercive approach in safeguarding the values of the Union by launching the Art. 7 procedure.
Following the terms of Article 7(1) TEU, we, therefore, call on the European Commission or the European Parliament to stop waiting for the Council to act and instead to launch the Article 7 procedure. At a time where thousands of people take to streets and protest by waving both the Hungarian and the European flag, it is high time for the European Union to send a strong sign of support in their direction.
The Article 7 TEU procedure allows for EU institutions to flag a clear risk of a serious breach (Art. 7(1) TEU) and of the existence of a serious and persistent breach of EU values (Art. 7(2) TEU). In case the latter has been determined, the Council, meaning the EU Member States, may decide to suspend certain rights of the Member State, e.g. voting rights in the Council.