On Tuesday evening, the two leading contenders in the running for president of the European Commission, Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans, faced each other in a debate series on ARD television. The topics ranged from climate change to terrorism and migration. During the program, the candidates even fielded questions about Hungary.
This was the first time that Weber, the leader of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, and Timmermans, the Dutch politician running for the Party of European Socialists (PES), addressed German voters directly. During the debate, 130 voters had the opportunity to ask the two candidates direct questions about a myriad of topics. Some even touched on the prevalence of the rule of law and the constitutional identities of Poland, Romania and Hungary.
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Manfred Weber emphasized the importance of a new type of procedure that could guarantee the principle of the rule of law in Hungary. He went so far as to call the ongoing Article 7 proceedings an ineffective, “blunt sword.” In the case of a violation of the rule of law, the European Commission would propose sanctions and restricted access to EU funding, he added.
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Frans Timmermans – the First Vice President of the European Commission responsible for coordinating the Commission’s work on the rule of law – thinks the issue is not with the form of the procedures, especially since the European Commission has already achieved a lot using the current regulation. Instead, he says the main problem is the member states’ lack of political will. They would fail to stand up against member states in violation of the rule of law, effectively leading to the collapse of the European Union, he claims.
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He mentioned that Central European University had been “forced out” of Hungary. The Dutch politician went on to note that the Orbán administration does “awful things.” In particular, he singled out the “Stop Soros” bill and the ruling parties putting civil society under pressure. Timmermans also warned that “free press has become almost non-existent” in Hungary.
Photo by Balázs Szecsõdi/PM’s Press Office