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Sargentini Vote: Not Only Numbers Matter But How You Count Them

Gábor Sarnyai 2018.09.19.

Right before the vote, many Fidesz members and experts concluded that abstention votes should be included in the final results. Fidesz also criticized liberals and the EP for changing critical rules right before the election, but other sources claim the abstention votes were never counted in the final tally.

Fidesz now appears eager to file a court case against the EP because of its ambiguity. László Trócsányi, Minister of Justice, told Origo that it is striking that an important institution like the European Parliament doesn’t have a clear understanding of its own procedures. He also recalled that the Speaker of the Parliament had to ask for legal advice regarding voting rules just two days before the plenary.

The legal uncertainty may have been caused by the changes that took place last year. The document specified the method of voting:

In calculating whether a text has been adopted or rejected, account shall be taken only of votes cast for and against, except in those cases for which the Treaties lay down a specific majority.

The main argument of the Hungarian government is that the two-thirds majority also falls under a specific majority, therefore to accept Article Seven a specific majority is needed.

Index.hu interviewed one of the architects of the procedural rules, Richard Corbett, and he argues that the two-thirds majority is common in EP’s rules; therefore, it cannot be the specific majority. The majority could be specific in the EP, but only if the procedure weren’t made by it, but one of the Treaties instead.

For instance, the Parliament can vote to apply their own procedure by a specific majority, meaning that 50 percent of MEPs have to vote in favor of it. The Justice Minister thinks the motivation behind the EP’s decision was more of a political one, rather than a legal one. They wanted to prosecute Hungary due to its clear stance on illegal migration, anyway.

EU law in the making

Article Seven has never been launched in the history of the Union. Therefore, there could be legal vacuums in the system due to the law never having been used, and interpretative disputes may emerge over the issues. Debates over procedural rules are not the only legal disputes that have surfaced as a result of the Sargentini-report. The procedural rules are also not clear; if the EU would seek a parallel investigation of both Poland and Hungary, there’s a chance that the two countries would back each other in the council.

Translation issues could also cause problems in understanding the legal framework. The Hungarian version of the document doesn’t explain the notion of a specific majority (különleges többség), and other official EU documents translate it in a different way (megszabott többség), thereby leaving a lot of room for interpretation.

featured photo by European Parliament

By Gábor Sarnyai

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