Although ahead of the EP elections, the Fidesz-led Hungarian government was optimistic that it would not be included, Hungary’s rule of law and democracy debates are unlikely to go off the agenda in the upcoming session of European legislation. The EC’s new leader, Ursula von der Leyen has designated a separate portfolio for these issues in her cabinet.
Although after her first meeting with PM Viktor Orbán at the end of July, where both seemed pleased and positive with each other, von der Leyen made it clear that rule of law is of top priority for her.
In her cabinet, there would be a separate portfolio dedicated to these issues, and the ‘Values and Transparency’ portfolio leader will also be the EC’s deputy president, since the new College will have eight Vice-Presidents responsible for the top priorities.
She appointed outgoing Czech Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality for the job which probably bears a special significance. Many think Jourová’s appointment is part of von der Leyen’s outreach to the V4 countries, as certain Central European leaders have long accused the outgoing Commission of being unfair with the region when it comes to rule of law issues.
Jourová is by the way in the same political party as Orbán’s ally Czech PM Andrej Babiš, although Politico notes that she is rather independent of him in many aspects and she has already criticized Poland and Hungary in connection with the rule of law.
Anyhow, Jourová claimed: “my memories of communism are too vivid to be complacent about challenges to fundamental freedoms, the plurality of media, or the rule of law,” speaking about her new job.
In addition, left-liberal Klubrádió noted that the other one who would be charged with handling “renitent” countries is ‘Justice’ portfolio leader, Didier Reynders, who has been a Minister of Guy Verhofstadt’s government in Belgium and whose party is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), while Verhofstadt and the Orbán government have been hostile towards each other for years.
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Von der Leyen has also pledged to support a proposal to link EU funding to rule of law criteria, something which the EU’s reigning president, Finland, took a stance to as well. The Northern country made it clear that it would use the presidency to push for the adoption of contentious plans to cut budget payments to states that breach the rule of law. It has also revealed the intention to push the Article 7 procedure through against Hungary, resulting in an ongoing diplomatic and communication battle with the Orbán government.
featured image via Balázs Szecsődi/PM’s Press Office/MTI