Addressing a hearing of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) focusing on the rule of law in Hungary, representatives of Hungarian rights groups criticized the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for restricting fundamental rights.
The hearing itself is unique in that it is the first instance in the European Union’s history that the EP is undertaking an investigation into whether EU values are being upheld in a member state.
Initiated by Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, the hearing will ultimately lead to a report recommending whether the Parliament should trigger Article 7 proceedings against Hungary over “the deterioration of democracy and rule of law” in the country.
You can view Sargentini’s speech at the hearing below:
At the hearing, Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told LIBE that the government had systematically weakened its system of checks and balances, putting the fundamental values of the EU at risk. She added that
A free press and a strong civil sector are key in a democratic state for ensuring government accountability.
The Helsinki Committee, a human rights group that was nominated for Council of Europe’s Václav Havel Human Rights Prize this year, is one of the nearly two-dozen NGOs who have turned to Hungary’s Constitutional Court over the Orbán government’s controversial law requiring civil groups receiving foreign donations above a certain threshold to register as organizations funded from abroad. Since the bill’s passage, human rights and civil society groups worldwide have condemned the law as a move to silence “critical voices in society.”
The NGO law was also one of the issues that the European Commission (EC) has decided to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is the next step towards sanctions against the Hungarian government.
At the hearing, Gábor Polyák, the head of the Mérték Média Monitor, accused the government of handling criticism as “an attack” and
Using the media as a political communications tool.
Opposition Socialist (MSZP) MEP István Ujhelyi said Hungary had again been “shamed” as an EU member for “the government’s sins”.
Péter Niedermüller, an MEP for the leftist opposition Democratic Coalition (DK), called the government “pathetic” or failing to engage in a real debate and instead “repeating its own propaganda lines”.
Following the end of the hearing, Dutch Liberal MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld urged the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) to kick Orbán’s Fidesz out of its grouping, arguing that
In a democracy there is pluralism, and that is what Orbán wants to kill. For eight years Orbán has been stifling opposition, criticism, it is a fake democracy.
Miklós Szánthó, the director of the pro-government Center for Fundamental Rights, claimed that it was an “illusion” that Hungary had failed to observe EU laws, arguing that Hungary was a steady mid-fielder among EU member states from the point of view of the number of infringement procedures launched against it.
Meanwhile, Fidesz MEP Kinga Gál argued that she was baffled by the criticisms directed at Hungary, a country, she said, where demonstrators are not treated violently by the authorities, opposition politicians do not get arrested and journalists are not murdered. Lívia Járóka, also a ruling party MEP, said Brussels applied double standards against Hungary.
Speaking the LIBE hearing, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó turned away from issues of press freedom, democracy, and corruption, and toward one of the Orbán government’s favorite talking points: that Hungary rejects illegal migration and the quota system, and would
continue fighting for the interests and security of the Hungarian people.
He said the government would not shy away from debate, but claimed that there was a wide gap between the views of Budapest and Brussels on most aspects of the issue, including “the concept of nation, respect for traditions, border defense and security”. He claimed that the EU, which has itself been the target of the Orbán government’s “Stop Brussels!” billboard campaign earlier this year, was “attacking” Hungary.
Szijjártó continued this line of commentary about migration issues at a press conference following the LIBE hearing, where he claimed that the committee and a large majority of European parliamentarians see illegal migration as a positive development, while the Hungarian government considered it a dangerous trend.
The Foreign Minister argued that the European Parliament’s decision on mandatory migrant quotas “cannot be implemented” because there is no mechanism in place for keeping people settled within the Schengen Area in a given country. Further, the mandatory migrant quotas “run totally counter to sober mindedness as well as to European laws and conventions.”
He added that the Hungarian government considers it a
violation of sovereignty if the EU wants to deprive them of the right to decide whom they allow to enter their territory.
Moving into conspiratorial language, Szijjártó claimed that he had “no doubt” that the report on Hungary “is already in place” and strongly reflected the political motivation behind “the political witch hunt” against Hungary. He said the report would not be “independent of the position of US financier George Soros.”
The Hungarian-American billionaire is currently the target of a lengthy Fidesz billboard and ‘National Consultation’ campaign, calling on people to ‘give their opinions’ on the so-called “Soros plan.” Both Soros and other observers (including Hungarian EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, a member of Fidesz) have argued that there is no evidence that any such “plan” exists, and that the entire ‘National Consultation’ is in fact nothing more than a
deceptive propaganda campaign.
Via MTI, Hungary Matters, europarl.europa.eu, index.hu, and EUobserver
Images via MTI and Twitter
Video via audiovisual.europarl.europa.eu