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Rule of Law Concerns Risk of Hungary’s EU Funds, Gov’t Claims Proceeding Politically Motivated

Hungary Today 2021.06.04.

The Court of Justice of the European Union dismissed Hungary’s legal challenge to overturn a European Parliament resolution that triggered an Article 7 procedure, a disciplinary mechanism that can result in an EU country losing its voting rights. The decision comes on the heels of EC Vice President Vera Jourova’s comments who said the commission might trigger the sanctions procedure of the new rule of law mechanism even before it is reviewed by the ECJ. It seems Viktor Orbán and his administration will need to face huge battles in the EU in the upcoming time period, less than a year before the 2022 general elections take place in Hungary.

In September 2018, the EP adopted a resolution (Sargentini report) to determine the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the European Union is founded. This triggered the so-called Article 7 procedure, which can result in an EU country losing its voting rights.

Fact

The mechanism of the Article 7 procedure aims to uphold the fundamental rights and values of the European Union. The rule states that if these rights are found permanently and severely violated, a procedure could be initiated which could even end in one of the most serious political sanctions – a suspension of the member state’s voting rights in the EU. While identifying the violation requires unanimity (excluding the accused country), sanctions require only a qualified majority. Hungary, along with Poland, are the only two nations currently subject to such measures. However, both countries have vowed to block them against the other, thereby completely stalling the whole procedure.

As the resolution requires a two-third majority of votes, Hungary argues that the EP should have taken account of abstentions when calculating the votes cast, in which case it would have not passed.

Advocate General Advises EU Court to Dismiss Hungarian Action on Article 7 Procedure
Advocate General Advises EU Court to Dismiss Hungarian Action on Article 7 Procedure

The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has advised the court to dismiss Hungary’s challenge of the European Parliament’s Article 7 procedure against the country. In his opinion published on Thursday, Michal Bobek noted that the EP launched an Article 7 procedure against Hungary in 2018, citing “a clear […]Continue reading

The CJEU has ruled that MEPs’ abstentions do not have to be counted in order to determine the two-third majority of the votes cast. The court said the term “votes cast” does not include abstentions, which are by definition a refusal to cast a vote.

Fact

Judit Sargentini, who wrote the report that triggered the Article 7 procedure, hailed the ECJ’s decision. In an interview with leftist daily Népszava, she said the ruling was no suprise to her as the European Parliament is well aware of its voting procedures. Sargentini said she never had any doubts about the validity of the vote and the report. “I regret that two and a half years have been wasted on this costly judicial procedure, which has taken up the time of already overworked judges,” she said. “My view has always been that this is yet another attempt by the Hungarian government to undermine the democratic system.”

In a Facebook post, Hungary’s Justice Minister, Judit Varga, called the decision “completely unacceptable and shocking.” “In our view, the vote was not only contrary to EU Treaties, but also to the European Parliament’s own Rules of Procedure,” Varga wrote.

The politician repeated the Orbán government’s stance on the issue. “Hungary, in the spirit of loyal cooperation, stands ready for dialogue” on issues related to the rule of law, Varga wrote. “The politically-motivated witch hunts, however, we continue to reject.”

Balázs Hidvéghi, a ruling Fidesz MEP, said the Luxebourg court had been “…sitting for two-and-a-half years on a simple voting issue,” and a decision on another matter “concerning serious legal and political questions” should take them “much longer” or else “one might have the impression that the CJEU decides under political pressure in cases crucial for Brussels.”

Regardless of the decision, Hidvéghi emphasized the Sargentini report was “…full of falsehoods and lies which Hungary has refuted on many occasions.”

CJEU’s dismissal of Hungary’s legal challenge means the Article 7 procedure will continue. However, as it has no deadline and requires the support of 26 EU states (out of the 27), it is unlikely to end anytime soon.

But another procedure could likely be launched against Hungary in the foreseeable future, at least according to EC Vice President, Vera Jourova.

EU to suspend funding for Hungary and Poland?

As part of the recovery fund deal and the EU’s new seven-year budget, the European Union adopted a new rule of law mechanism to ensure countries receiving EU funds respect the bloc’s fundamental values. The process was then challenged by Hungary and Poland, and awaiting ECJ’s ruling.

However, Vera Jourova said she may not wait for the ruling before taking action.

Asked if the EC was planning to trigger the sanctions procedure before the court delivers its verdict, she told Bloomberg that “…we will have to if the ECJ ruling comes too late.”

If this happens, it could negatively impact Hungary, resulting in a suspension of funding for the country, which just submitted its plan for utilizing the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), covering more than 2.5 billion forints (EUR 7bn) worth of strategic development projects over the next six years.

Govt Submits Hungary Plan for Tapping EU's Recovery Fund
Govt Submits Hungary Plan for Tapping EU's Recovery Fund

The development of the health system is the plan's most significant element, utilizing 34 percent of available resources.Continue reading

Commenting on Jourova’s announcement, the prime minister’s chief of staff said that “…we are talking about an EU Commissioner who has been declared a persona non grata in Hungary, who hates Hungarians and is unfit for her post.”

According to Gergely Gulyás, the commissioner is trying to win the favor of the liberal media by berating Hungary and Poland.

The minister said that “…we are friends of the rule of law,” which is why Hungary supports sanctions and investigations in cases of real violations of rights.

EPPO to investigate suspicious cases despite Hungary not joining org 

Another major point of concern for the Orbán government might be the recently established European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) which has the power to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against the EU budget. Although Hungary did not join the EPPO due to “soveregnity issues,” the organization’s new leader, Laura Codruța Kövesi, has made it clear several times that the proecutor’s office will investigate cases from Hungary regardless.

Codruța Kövesi: EPPO Will Also Investigate Hungarian Cases
Codruța Kövesi: EPPO Will Also Investigate Hungarian Cases

Although the Hungarian government opposes joining the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), the office will have the right to investigate certain Hungarian cases, EPPO’s new leader Laura Codruța Kövesi told Euronews. Codruța Kövesi was elected to lead the EPPO in 2019, after having led the Romanian anti-corruption agency and having contributed to a number of high-profile […]Continue reading

Regarding the isssue, Gulyás said that the government believes there are parts of the cooperation that violate national sovereignty. Such an organization is being created, the head of which denies the body’s credibility.

According to Gergely Gulyás, Laura Codruta Kövesi has in fact “…prosecuted Hungarian politicians in Romania based on trumped-up charges” and she herself has been prosecuted.

“It is clear that she is unfit to lead the organisation,” Gulyás said.

In the featured photo: EU Commissioner Vera Jourova. Photo via Jourova’s Twitter page.