The Europen Commission’s opinion has not changed significantly in the past months regarding problems it listed in its rule of law report over the summer, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in Budapest on Friday on the last day of his three-day visit in the country. According to Justice Minister Judit Varga, the EC’s rule-of-law reports have no legal footing.
Reynders stayed in Hungary from Wednesday to Friday consulting representatives of parliament, government, judges, and the civil sector concerning the findings of the EU 2021 rule-of-law report. The Commissioner also met Péter Márki-Zay, the joint opposition’s candidate for prime minister and Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony. He said the aim is to create a ‘culture of the rule of law in Europe,’ and if nothing else, to challenge laws such as Hungary’s NGO law, the university reform, or the ‘homophobic child protection law.’ The latter, according to Reynders, is not only discriminatory but also goes against EU legislation on the freedom to distribute various press products.
According to the EC’s Justice Commissioner, persons of differing sexual orientation clearly suffer discrimination in Hungary. Reynders said he was convinced that Hungarian regulations contradicted European Union principles of freedom, and added that he wanted to see an amendment to the relevant law.
He also noted that the Hungarian government’s decision to ask the Constitutional Court to review a European Union top court ruling related to migration was “unacceptable,” because according to Reynders, it questioned the primacy of EU law.
The Commissioner said the functioning of the judiciary, corruption, the situation of the media, and checks and balances have been under review. The commission’s opinion has not changed significantly, he added.
The European Commission released the annual report on the state of rule of law in each EU country in July. The report package includes a more than 30-page report on Hungary, which in addition to last year’s concerns, also includes criticism of the EC’s child protection law. Among other things, this year’s report finds
that Hungary lacks progress on combatting corruption, while its media and civil society are under threat, and its legislation lacks transparency. The Orbán-led government, however, claims the report on the rule of law is, in fact, nothing more than an attempt to blackmail Hungary over its ’child protection law.’
When asked by the press, Reynders said that he had also discussed the Pegasus scandal with representatives of the Hungarian Parliament, and although he had learned that the Hungarian authorities had used the spyware, the government still maintains that this was done in a legal way. “We are now waiting for the data protection authority to investigate,” said Reynders, whose portfolio includes GDPR cases, and who is urging all member states to become more actively involved in data security.
During his visit, Reynders also met Justice Minister Judit Varga and tried to explain to her the content of the report, giving guidelines on how Hungary could meet the rule of law requirements.
The EU commissioner emphasized that next year the EC would not only release its findings but also concrete proposals on rule of law issues. If there is still no change, the Commission is ready to impose sanctions, the commissioner said.
Justice Min: Rule-of-law reports have no legal footing
The European Commission’s rule-of-law reports have no legal footing, Justice Minister Judit Varga said at a press conference after talks with Commissioner Reynders.
In addition to outlining the Hungarian government’s position, she told the press that Hungary would always engage with the EC in diplomatic and legal dialogue.
Varga noted that in the General Affairs Council both the Polish and the Hungarian governments had vetoed the decision on drafting rule-of-law reports, citing the absence of legal grounding for such a procedure.
Given the lack of a legal basis, it follows that no action can be taken from the reports, she added.
Varga told the Commissioner that the report in question regarding Hungary was based on the opinion of civil organizations that are critical of the government and biased against it, and this amounted to “the most drastic example of double standards.”
Featured photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI