Viviane Reding: Hungary and the Rule of Law – Statement of the European Commission in the Plenary Debate of the European Parliament

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President,

Minister,

Honourable Members,

I want to thank the President for holding this debate today on a subject which is attracting a great deal of attention.

The European Parliament is the right place to discuss with EU institutions matters related to the values and principles on which the European Union is founded. Today, in representation of President Barroso and on behalf of the European Commission I would like to set out clearly the role and approach of the Commission. I will also give you an overview of where we stand with regard to the specific issues in question.

The Commission has been closely monitoring developments related to the Hungarian Constitutional system since 2011. President Barroso was in this House one year ago to inform you about the Commission position at that time.

Since then, the Commission has played a very active role as guardian of the Treaties. It has assessed the legislation and its compliance with EU law. Infringement procedures were launched. Some of them are pending. Others have been brought to judgment by the Court of Justice. The Commission’s interpretation of the EU law has been confirmed. We now expect the Hungarian authorities to fully comply with the judgement.

Allow me to briefly recall the recent developments concerning the situation in Hungary. On 11 March the Hungarian Parliament adopted the Fourth amendment to the fundamental law of Hungary. The week before and, in coordination with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Jagland, President Barroso spoke with Prime Minister Orbán. He communicated the Commission’s concern on the conformity of the Fourth Amendment with EU law and with the principle of the rule of law, which represents a core EU value.

On 11 March, President Barroso and Secretary General Jagland issued a joint statement. They expressed the shared concerns of both the Commission and the Council of Europe with respect to the principles of the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards. In this context, allow me to quote Secretary General Jagland who said that: “the Hungarian government is reintroducing the Transitional Provisions which were annulled by the Constitutional Court. This gives the impression that the government is willing to use the two-thirds parliamentary majority to overrule the Constitutional Court, which might endanger the fundamental principle of checks and balances in a democracy.” These serious concerns need to be addressed by Hungary. The Commission has therefore appealed to Prime Minister Orbán and his government to address and tackle them in a determined and unambiguous way.

The Commission is currently conducting a detailed legal analysis of the amendments. The Commission’s legal analysis is progressing at a steady pace, in an objective, non-partisan and fair manner, in full respect of EU law and principles. This is what we have done in all other situations such as in Romania last year.

We are also working very closely with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe which will deliver an opinion mid-June on the compatibility of these amendments with the principles of the rule of law.

Based on a first legal analysis, President Barroso wrote to Prime Minister Orbán, on 12 April, expressing the serious concerns of the Commission about the conformity of these amendments with EU law. Prime Minister Orbán replied to this letter on the same day assuring President Barroso of the Prime Minister’s readiness to cooperate and to pay full attention to the concerns raised. He also informed the Commission that he had already initiated the necessary steps to address the concerns. He has also reiterated his personal commitment to European norms and values, as well as that of his government’s and of the Hungarian Parliament.

Coming back to the letter of President Barroso, this focuses in particular on three main issues:

First, a clause, introduced by Article 17 of the Fourth amendment to the Hungarian fundamental law, on European Court of Justice judgments entailing payment obligations. The implementation of this provision would mean that Hungary would introduce an ad-hoc tax on Hungarian citizens should Hungary be fined for breach of EU law. Is it really sensible to make citizens pay for a tax whenever the state would fail to be in compliance with EU law? In practice citizens would be penalised twice: once for not having had their rights under EU law upheld and a second time for having to pay for this. This could undermine the authority of the Court of Justice and could constitute a violation of the duty of sincere cooperation in Article 4 (3) of the Treaty on the European Union on the part of Hungary; Here to read more.

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