Tag Archives: EPP

Viktor Orbán stood alone at the EPP congress

Viktor Orbán has been headline news in the last few days. One reason for this sudden interest in the pocket dictator of Hungary is his determination to close Hungary’s best institution of higher learning, the Central European University. The other was his performance at the annual congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Malta, where he delivered a speech that went against everything the other EPP politicians stand for.

The new government mouthpiece Origo described the Hungarian leader’s fantastic energy, which allowed him to have so many negotiations in one day in Malta. “Even foreign journalists commented on the Hungarian prime minister’s stamina.” On March 29 he had talks with an Albanian party chairman, a former Macedonia prime minister, the Bulgarian prime minister, the Croatian prime minister, an opposition politician from Malta, and the Austrian deputy chancellor. As for politicians from the European Union, he met with Jyirki Katainen, vice president of the European Union, and an official of the European Council.

Then came the second day of the congress and speeches by European politicians, who all spoke about unity and solidarity. Donald Tusk, who has been highly praised in the international media of late, talked at length about the necessity of a united Europe as the only guarantee of its sovereignty. “For a responsible patriot there is no better alternative than a united and sovereign Europe.” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis showed himself to be a strong supporter of a unified Europe bound together by the basic values of the European Union. Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister who is one of those few European politicians striving for a United States of Europe, talked about the advantages of integration. Manfred Weber, head of the EPP’s parliamentary delegation, announced that “anyone who loves his birthplace must say yes to a strong Europe.”

Then it was Viktor Orbán’s turn. His speech was described by Bloomberg as a “litany of charges” against migration into the EU, warning of “a dominant Muslim presence” in western Europe in the coming years, and condemning a “leftist ideology” that imposed guilt “for the crusades and colonialism.” Alluding to the Syrian conflict, he said that “if you kick an anthill, we should not be surprised if the ants overwhelm us.” I don’t know how other people feel about this metaphor, but it struck me as crude and demeaning. Perhaps unfairly, it reminded me of Albert Wass’s story of the rats that the farmer allowed to take over his house. Of course, Wass was writing not about the Syrians but about the Jews.

Angela Merkel, who spoke after Orbán, didn’t directly address the Hungarian prime minister but clearly was referring to Orbán’s hard-nosed inhumanity. “Do we just want to say that we don’t have any humanitarian responsibilities here?” she asked. According to Bloomberg, this clash between Merkel and Orbán laid “bare European disunity.” What they should have added was that, of all the speeches delivered, it was only Viktor Orbán’s that went against the consensus.

We are trying to be charming / Photo: MTI

Bloomberg didn’t elaborate on the part of Orbán’s speech that dealt with human rights. Orbán is mighty upset over the European Court of Human Rights/ECHR’s verdict that fined the Hungarian government for the ill treatment of two refugees from Bangladesh. In fact, Fidesz politicians were so upset that they were quite seriously talking about withdrawing Hungary from adherence to the European Convention of Human Rights. Of course, cooler heads prevailed. The hotheads calmed down once the minister of justice said that the government, although it will appeal the verdict, has no intention of taking such a foolish step. But it seems that the Hungarian government is not satisfied with a simple appeal. Viktor Orbán wants “urgent reforms” of the ECHR because “its judgments were a threat to the security of EU people and an invitation for migrants.” It is a mystery why Orbán thought that the EPP’s annual congress was the best place to suggest reform of the court when it functions under the aegis of the Council of Europe, which is a different entity from the European Union.

Orbán also decided to bring his ideological fight to the fore when he called the European Left “fatal for Europe.” Leftist politicians “want to force bureaucratic rules in our labor market, raise taxes, and … build socialism in Europe.” He called on his fellow Christian Democrats to fight these forces. “We are the EPP. We should not be afraid of leftist criticism calling us populist.” According to Euractiv, these words were received enthusiastically, which I find strange because practically no one considers the Christian Democrats populists. We normally talk about them as politicians of the right of center. The label “populism” is reserved for politicians of the far right, for example, Viktor Orbán and leaders of populist parties all over Europe. In this regard, it should be noted, Fidesz’s presence in the EPP delegation is something of an anomaly.

My sense is that because of Viktor Orbán’s behavior in the past few years, Hungary is isolated even within the EPP. For instance, at the congress there were several panels on a range of topics where experts and politicians gave speeches or led discussion groups. There was not one Hungarian leading such a group. Hungary was represented only once, on a panel discussion organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in which János Martonyi, the former Hungarian foreign minister, was one of the participants. Martonyi has the reputation of being a respectable diplomat, and Viktor Orbán usually trots him out when he wants to show the better side of his government and Fidesz.

There was one piece of news from the congress about which the Hungarian government media was silent. The EPP adopted a resolution on “Russian disinformation undermining Western democracy.” We learned about the existence of this resolution from István Ujhelyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, who wrote about it on his Facebook page. He pointed out that Viktor Orbán signed the document, but obviously the party and the government were not too eager to advertise this fact.

The path to this resolution started with an open letter by members of the EPP to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The letter asked her to “Please start taking the Russian disinformation threat seriously!” Apparently, she didn’t answer “nor did she acknowledge what the letter’s signatories seemed to want her to say: that Russian disinformation, as well as the separate but related issues of illiberalism and political extremism, is increasingly becoming a big problem in Europe, and specifically in the ‘Visegrad Four’ countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.”

Unfortunately, I very much doubt that Viktor Orbán’s signature on this declaration will make any difference in the government media’s pro-Russian orientation.

March 31, 2017

Jan-Werner Mueller: An Interview with Kriszta Bombera

Jan-Werner Mueller is a professor of political science at Princeton University and the author of several books. He began his university studies at the Free University, Berlin, followed by University College, London, St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and Princeton University. To fully appreciate the depth of his scholarly works I recommend taking a look at his official biography. In addition to his strictly scholarly work Professor Mueller writes commentaries on current affairs, which can be found in The Guardian, London Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, and Südeutsche Zeitung.

His interest in Hungary has been reinforced by family connections. Through marriage he has relatives in Hungary, and he visits the country at least once a year. He spent a longer period of time in Budapest when he was a visiting fellow at the Collegium Budapest Institute of Advanced Study. Unfortunately, the building the institute occupied was taken away from them by the Orbán government. They found shelter at the University of Central Europe.

Kriszta Bombera is currently a producer, anchor, and correspondent at ATV. In the last twelve months she has served as the foreign correspondent of the station in the United States. Prior to her job at ATV she worked for MTV (2007-2011), Hungary’s state television.

* * *

BK: Last Wednesday the European Parliament accepted a resolution condemning the Hungarian consultation on immigration. The resolution also asks the Commission to assess the situation of democracy and rule of law and to report back in September. Does this mean that maybe even the new rule of law mechanism of 2014 will be applied?

JWM: It is now up to the Commission to decide whether they want to take this anywhere. It’s not the first time the Parliament called on the Commission, you may recall the Tavares report in 2013, and there is always some leeway of what the Commission will do with a proposal. The big difference between 2013 and now is that we have a new Commission with two central players, Juncker and Timmermans who have, to put it mildly, a “record” with the Hungarian Prime Minister and who have also made it clear in the past that they are willing to do whatever they think it takes to protect democracy and the rule of law in Europe. But the Commission is not the only player on the scene. Last December the European Council – namely the member states’ governments – made it clear that they are very sceptical about the new framework which the Commission had put in place in March 2014. They believe the framework exceeds the powers of the Commission currently has according to the Treaties. This is still debated between the Council and the Commission. It is a deep-seated problem that we don’t have one central actor who is tasked with carrying out the protection of democracy and the rule of law. So it is not guaranteed that the conduct of the Parliament will necessarily result in something very strong but it is more likely with the Commission we have in place now than in 2013.

BK: What do you think the outcome may be of the struggle between the several EU institutions?

Jan-Werner Mueller

Jan-Werner Mueller

JWM: I think it will very much depend on whether at least some of the member states are more willing to be seen as openly criticizing the Hungarian government. Not only the Commission but another thing has also changed since 2013. Viktor Orbán has at least on two occasions employed a language that even people on the outside can clearly understand. Today there is no need to get into complicated stories about the Constitutional Court, the National Judiciary Office, the ombudsman or data protection to describe the intentions of the Hungarian government. For at least some observers, it will always seem plausible to say that these things are relative and that there are always two sides to the story. But the Hungarian Prime Minister’s talk of illiberal democracy last summer and his reckless talk now on the death penalty is the kind of language that people on the outside can clearly understand. Now it is more likely that at least some members of a foreign policy establishment or some political parties in other European countries might find it easier to put more pressure on their own governments sitting in the European Council to investigate how this can happen in the European Union: a Union that is committed to values of diversity, human rights or pluralism, which are codified in Article Two of the European Treaty. So from the point of view of the Hungarian government I think these have been strategic mistakes. They have made themselves more vulnerable to be attacked now that they have made it clear to the outside world that the government of Hungary is committed to values clearly in conflict with what the EU stands for.

Kriszta Bombera

Kriszta Bombera

BK: One might say they have not made themselves that vulnerable. The EPP, after all, is not going to expel Fidesz. The Christian Democrats did not even vote for the final, very strongly worded resolution. Do you think it might have been better to embrace the EPP’s version of the resolution instead of that of the Liberals and the Social Democrats? Wouldn’t it have meant more politically if criticism comes from the party family that Fidesz belongs to? Even if the criticism is somewhat softer than, for example, that of the Liberals. After all, not even the Christian Democrats were beating around the bush about the consultation on migration or about death penalty. But since the EPP’s version of the resolution did not pass the Hungarian government can say, again, that it is a victim of party politics as usual, of the attacks of the liberal left. They said the same about the Tavares report.

JWM: The EPP is a large and fairly dysfunctional political family. It partly became so large in the course of the 1990’s because people like Helmuth Kohl decided that – as he put it back then – they did not create Europe to leave it to the Socialists. So they expanded the EPP, essentially went around Europe and convinced anyone who said they hate Communists that they belong to the Christian Democrats then. So the EPP is a diverse party. There are, of course, lots of people in it who have some sympathy Viktor Orbán’s politics. They see it as a genuinely conservative, genuinely Christian voice. But there are many others who react very badly to the kind of nationalism that Orbán exhibits or to his argument for a debate on the death penalty in Hungary.

They remember what Europe was initially built for, that initially it was meant to be a project that keeps strong nationalism and strong nation states in check on the basis of the experience of the Second World War. A number of EPP members retain that sensibility, and they are committed to a common European morality. We, of course, do not know exactly who voted for what last Wednesday but I think lots of people in the EPPP are fed up with Orbán whose actions and words are, if nothing else, morally dangerous and it is also a huge distraction from Europe’s real problems. They are no longer quite willing to believe the story that Orbán always used to tell his fellow Christian Democrats, namely that he was the last bastion that kept Jobbik at check. They now realize that Jobbik and Fidesz are much closer in terms of rhetoric than they initially thought. So we should not simply say that the EPP clearly stands behind Orbán. Certain individuals like Manfred Weber have not really changed much but many others within the party would actually be willing to go along with harsher sanctions if it came to them.

BK: Hungarian opposition politicians have started stating that Fidesz lost its last ally within the European Parliament. Others who dismiss this argue that there will be always need for such a large fraction as the one Fidesz has within the EPP. Do you think this consideration will indeed always override other concerns about Hungary?

JWM: It is certainly a serious concern, you might say it is a tragic structural problem in Europe today. What can look like more democracy on the European level – when the European Parliament gets more powers – might lead to less democracy within the member states. The European parties, in this case the EPP, might indeed be willing to close its eyes to what is happening in an undemocratic way at the national level so it can retain the loyalty of a relatively big group like Fidesz. This is what happened in 2014 when Joseph Daul the then leader of the EPP in the European Parliament went to Hero’s Square in Budapest to campaign for Viktor Orbán, whom he called a good friend. This was in a sense a tragic outcome, since a very problematic development on the national level was tolerated only to make sure that the EPP remained the largest fraction in the European Parliament. But that was 2014. Now, in 2015, the EPP can be more confident that it will remain the largest fraction for a number of years to come. So, again, I would not be so sure that the entire fraction will stand behind Orbán indefinitely.

BK: The draft resolution of the European People’s Party also included that the Hungarian Prime Minister should set an example in popularizing EU values.” But why should he? There are numerous other heads of government who are doing everything but popularizing the EU. What are the significant differences between voices of dissent? For example between Orbán, Cameron or Tsipras?

JWM: I think one of the most serious problems in the EU today is that far too many politicians, parties but also social movements are lumped together under the category of being anti-European. This is a failure of political judgement (though some politicians do this quite intentionally to discredit certain political actors.) This could have very severe costs in the long run. Let us first take the paradigmatic example of the UK’s so-called euroskeptics who just want to get out of the EU. They are clearly anti-European in the sense that they don’t like the EU as it currently is. But the EU allows countries to leave the Union. I label these people a “disloyal but legitimate” opposition. There is a clause in the Lisbon Treaty that says if a country wants to get out – that is fine. Those who want to leave may leave, without causing damage to the values of the union and of those who stay within.

Let us examine those who criticize some specific current EU policies, for example those meant to rescue the eurozone. Those critics should be called a “legitimate and loyal” opposition because the EU is not about one particular policy. It should be perfectly possible to speak up against austerity or other policies without being labeled an “anti-European.” So Tsipras, for instance, or the Podemos movement in Spain are not anti-European. Chancellor Merkel very easily puts this label on very diverse groups or individuals, she famously has said ” if the euro fails, Europe fails,” as if criticism of her policies meant becoming an anti-European. IN any democracy, a legitimate opposition has an important role to play.

In the last category one may find those who are trying to undermine the EU in terms of its values both from the inside and from the outside. This is the “illegitimate and disloyal” opposition. In this category one can find , at least on certain occasions, the Hungarian government on the inside and Russia on the outside. Of course, Hungary does not want to officially leave the EU but it is undermining the moral core of the EU. This is truly anti-European, unlike what people like Tsipras are doing but similar to what Putin often tries to do. Putin would be much happier in a world without the European Union.

BK: Hungary, Greece and Great Britain: those are the very same three countries that the German and the French Ministers of Economy mentioned in an article in which they argued for a new regime in the European Union. There would be an inner circle for members of the eurozone and for those who believe in the values and policies of the EU and there should be another, looser circle for those who are presently struggling for more national sovereignty. Do you think it may be feasible? How should we imagine such a “layered” Union?

JWM: It is perfectly imaginable, differentiated integration is already a reality. Some countries already have opt-outs, they don’t have to go along with everything, in particular with the euro. We are already faced with a somewhat fragmented European Union and it is possible that this trend continues. But it may be more difficult to manage and could become dysfunctional. All the existing problems with democracy in the EU would be getting even more difficult. Who decides what for whom? How to identify who is responsible for what? There might have to be two parliaments but it is already very difficult to manage even one. The hopes of those who wanted Europe to use its weight, including its moral weight on the global stage will have to be buried, too, because Europe will not speak with a unified voice. It is not a very attractive vision, I think.

BK: Let me come back a bit to Hungary and to the EU rule of law mechanism of the Commission from last year. The resolution of the Liberals last Wednesday suggested that there is a “possibility of an already existing systemic threat to the rule of law in Hungary” and they argued for the first steps of the mechanism to be put into effect. But, as you previously pointed out, the mechanism has not been accepted by various member states, including Hungary. You had proposed the European Union another system before, the so-called Copenhagen Commission, which would be a brand new institution to guard democracy and the rule of law within the EU. But why would that be better than the existing tools? And, after all, do you agree that there may be a systemic threat to the rule of law in Hungary?

JWM: Let me start with the second question. The possibility of a threat has been there for years in Hungary. Democracy does not have to be already undermined or demolished in a country to be able to diagnose that there is a threat. There has to be a clear pattern, though, which we saw, for instance, in 2013 in Hungary. The Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law, the back and forth with the EU about it, then the Fifth Amendment, all were essentially attempts by the Hungarian government to see how far they can push certain ideas and then in response to criticism pull back to some degree. I think already at that point it was entirely legitimate to speak of a threat. One did not have to prove that “illiberal democracy” had already become entrenched..

Partly based on the experience with Austria in 2000 the EU was careful to have a two-stage process, when it comes to dealing with threats to fundamental EU values. In the first stage they only state there may be a threat. It does not mean that anything terrible has happened yet, it should be a relatively low threshold to cross. But in the second step, an actual breach of fundamental values has to be proven and then a Member State should lose its voting rights in the European Council.

Today Orbán’s talk of putting the death penalty back on the agenda – whatever that means – is also a threat. Of course, even to say this much is stigmatizing one country, since a member state is singled out as having a problem. But that is inevitable and the European Treaty allows for this. The objection that a member state was “singled out” by this process is not valid. This has nothing to do with prejudice or discrimination; if there is clear evidence, then a guilty party has to be singled out..

How could this be done in a more impartial way? The European Commission is officially the guardian of the treaties, and is officially an impartial actor on the European scene. So, in the eyes of many observers, it remains the best contender for taking on this task. But the European Commission may become more politicized. There are many proposals to make it more political, for example last year the election process for the President of the European Commission was an instance of this. This might result one day in people recognizing that the Commission has become a Christian Democrat or a Socialist Commission, that is, a partisan, political body – not in secret, but on purpose, to allow citizens to see their choices reflected in what a kind of EU government undertakes. In that case, the Commission will no longer appear as an impartial, non-partisan actor. For the case of that scenario I propose that we should create a new institution which could be called Copenhagen Commission in memory of the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the EU, which famously included democracy and the rule of law. This Commission would be tasked to monitor the member states and raise the alarm when something is going seriously wrong. A major condition would be the authority to act independently, without the member states effectively having an immediate veto.

There is another thing that should be contemplated in the EU, the possible expulsion of a member state, for which the European Treaty does not allow now. A country can leave voluntarily, its voting rights can be taken away in the European Council but if we imagine an absolute horror scenario, let us say one day a military dictatorship arises in a member state, the Union could not really take the ultimate step of expelling that country.

So quite apart from any particular discussion that we have been having about Hungary or Romania in the last couple of years I think it is a structural deficit that the Treaty now only allows us to isolate ourselves from a particular member state, to put it in a kind of quarantine. But there is no effective mechanism for intervening in that member state.

From the point of view of a member state’s population this is a real disappointment. If, for example in Hungary, people thought they entered the EU to have a safety mechanism, a kind of insurance scheme to be helped in the case of illiberal, undemocratic politics, they were wrong. If they hoped they locked themselves into a number of supranational guarantees that their country could not go back to even authoritarian measures, that sort of assurance isn’t really in place.

It is worth at least to have a discussion about the possibility of expelling a member state entirely instead of spending all this time on a Grexit or a Brexit or expelling Greece from the eurozone. These are serious matters but again, ultimately just questions of policy, not questions of values and how we want to live together in Europe as a whole. I think that discussion has been sorely missing from our deliberations so far.

BK: You are widely known not only for your proposal of the Copenhagen Commission but also as a scholar of populism. Prime Minister Orbán seems to be taking very sharp ideological turns recently. One might think his turns are even hard for his supporters to take. For example, recently he said he will defend Christian Hungary from multiculturalism. Some days later, welcoming Arab bankers to the country he said Hungary is an open country, a friend of Islam.. How can one do this without serious risks? And what should the Hungarian Prime Minister learn from the recent failures of Turkish President Erdoğan?

JWM: A populist is not somebody who simply repeats what people are supposedly saying. There is a distinction between a populist and a demagogue. It is the latter who says what he or she thinks is the popular opinion. Conversely, what a populist says is that he or his party are the only ones that morally represent the real, the pure people. As Orbán said most famously in 2002 after losing the election, “the nation cannot be in opposition,” from which it follows that Fidesz is the nation, or rather, the only legitimate representative of the nation. Similarly, Erdoğan said last year, “we are the people.” And to his critics he said, “who are you?” The exclusive claim to represent is decicive for populism and it may have little to do with what people think or believe. So I think Orbán’s double talk is more an example of a cynical double game. On the one hand he employs a popular rhetoric domestically but internationally or in negotiations with others he says something quite different.

To answer your question about Erdoğan, I think that Orbán had a better – but therefore also more dangerous – populist strategy. Unlike Erdoğan, he quickly put populism into the Constitution. From his point of view he did it “the right way around.” He first changed the constitution, he codified his understanding of the Hungarian nation, of Hungarian history and now, were he to lose power, the constitution would still be there. It’s a very big question what will happen to this partisan “Fundamental Law” in the future, and how a more democratic, inclusive constitutional settlement could be achieved.

Erdoğan, however, made himself president first and only his next step would have been a new constitution, had he been more successful in the recent election. That constitution would have been in line with his political beliefs but also more importantly with his particular vision of what a proper Turk and what a proper Turkish nation is. Today his position is much more difficult because he does not have the backup of an “Erdoğan constitution” which would mirror his views on what a proper Turk is like, his views of Islam morality, his vision of Turkish history. So Orbán had a proper strategy in entrenching populism institutionally.

Still, Orbán has a structural dilemma now. He faces a contender, Jobbik, that will always have the advantage of being the one big party that have never been in government, thus, has never shown to be corrupt in certain ways. But Orbán, the longer he stays in power the more scandals and problems he will face. Populists will always blame former elites or foreign actors for all problems. But the longer they are in office, the less credible this blame-game becomes.

The European Parliament condemns Hungary’s Orbán government

At last there seems to be real action on the part of the European Parliament. What happened today may mean a new chapter in the relations between the European Union and the far-right nationalist government of Viktor Orbán. This time, over and above the normal verbal condemnation, the European Parliament called on the Commission to “immediately initiate an in-depth monitoring process on the situation of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and to report back on this matter to the European Parliament and Council before September 2015.” We may have complained in the past about the snail-like pace of the EU bureaucracy, but today we cannot reproach them for being slow. The deadline is tight, but some of the work has already been done.

Almost two years ago Rui Tavares, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal, compiled an admirable report on Hungary’s violations of human rights and the basic values of the European Union. Anyone who’s interested in the details of this report should read Prof. Kim Lane Scheppele’s article, which appeared on this blog. Although the report was endorsed by the European Union and although it contained several recommendations, there was no follow-up. Now the European Commission has to dredge up the Tavares Report and add to it all the subsequent sins of the Orbán government. I trust that this time, finally, the Hungarian government’s flagrant violation of EU principles will have serious consequences.

Today’s condemnation is the final outcome of a discussion of the Hungarian situation initiated by the socialist (S&D), liberal (ALDE), and green (Greens-EFA) members of the European Parliament that took place on May 19th, with Viktor Orbán present. Today the objections to Hungarian government policies came to a vote. The differences of opinion on the Hungarian situation between the left and the right can be seen in my post of June 4, where I quoted the texts of the prepared points of the two sides.

The results of today’s vote are revealing. The European Parliament has 751 members. The vote for the resolution of the socialists, liberals, and greens was 362, with 247 against it. Eighty-eight members abstained, while 54 were either absent or didn’t vote. So, where did the yes votes come from? The S&D caucus has 191 members, ALDE 69, and the Greens 50. Thus the three parties that proposed the finally accepted resolution had a combined 310 votes if all their members were present and if they all voted for the resolution, not enough to pass it. GUE-NGL, a far-left group (as Fidesz calls them, communists), with 52 members was the most likely candidate to have made up the difference. We don’t know how many Christian Democrats (EPP) with 219 members, conservatives (ECR) with 72, or the euroskeptic EFDD with 47 voted for the resolution, but I suspect that a few did. One ought also to keep in mind that, in addition to the above parties, there are 51 independent members, including the three Jobbik delegates.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The really telling number is the 88 abstentions, which most likely came from ambivalent EPP MEPs. There is a good possibility that between 35% and 40% of EPP members can no longer wholeheartedly support Fidesz. And that is bad news for the Orbán government, although the high-level Fidesz members who in the last few hours commented on the results tried to convince their supporters and most likely themselves as well that the vote confirmed that “the European People’s Party didn’t abandon the Hungarian government party.” Calling the resolution a “second Tavares report,” as Gergely Gulyás described today’s vote, is like comparing apples and oranges. What he most likely meant was that both are full of “distortions of facts.” The resolution may come as an unpleasant surprise, but Fidesz still feels confident enough to state, as Gulyás did at his press conference, that the position of the Hungarian government is clear: “we are against immigration.”

The Fidesz members of the EPP also expressed their views on the resolution. According to their official statement, in fairly poor English, “double standards have never been more apparent” than in this case. They attack the left and the liberals “for generating hysteria over Hungary.” The resolution, in their opinion, “resorts to labeling, bending the truth and factually false statements.” Moreover,

The leftist and liberal political groups discredit themselves once more: while they are ready to abuse their majority in the EP to hold plenary debates and pass resolutions on Hungary – even when there is in fact no Hungarian legislation to scrutinize – they remain silent on recent events in Romania. The double standards applied not only discredit the political groups but unfortunately also the European Parliament itself. This must stop! Hungarian citizens voted resolutely last year for a second term for Fidesz and KDNP. The respect of the democratic choice of the voters is the most basic democratic principle and should never be contested in the European Parliament.

In brief, once a government is elected, it can do anything it wants.

Jobbik has three members in the European Parliament who sit with the independents because no parliamentary delegation wanted to have anything to do with them. Their leader, Zoltán Balczó, naturally defended the government party because, after all, ideologically they are not very far apart. In his opinion, the resolution “will not have any consequences” and “the whole thing is simply a show.”

The two-member MSZP EP delegation published a short statement, unfortunately only in Hungarian, which praised the resolution as “a principled and at the same time unambiguous answer to Viktor Orbán’s provocation.”

The most sanguine statements came from Csaba Molnár and Péter Niedermüller, the two DK EP members. They most likely overstated the case when they claimed that “a significant portion of the European People’s Party supported the resolution.” But I agree that EPP support for Fidesz by EPP has been eroding.

I think it is a wishful thinking on the part of Jobbik’s Balczó that the resolution will have no consequences. The European Commission is no longer the commission of José Manuel Barroso. Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans, his right-hand man, are a great deal less accommodating than Barroso was when it comes to the increasingly unacceptable behavior of the Hungarian prime minister.

 

Will the European People’s Party abandon Viktor Orbán? Unlikely

Time and again the Hungarian media gets hold of news, which in the end turns out to be unfounded, that Fidesz will be expelled from the European People’s Party. The first article in my data base is from October 2012 when Népszabadság reported that Viktor Orbán, who had been one of the deputy chairmen of the European People’s Party, decided not to be renominated for the post. At that time analysts came to the conclusion that if Orbán decided to run for the post he most likely would still win but that there was a growing number of people who thought that Orbán was too confrontational, someone who didn’t quite fit in. It was possible that leading members of the EPP delegation actually informed Orbán of these reservations. A few months later, in May 2013, the Frankfurter Rundschau reported that the expulsion of Fidesz from EPP was seriously being contemplated because of Viktor Orbán’s “trampling on European values.”

If there were such voices in what Jan-Werner Müller called a “deeply dysfunctional” party, they remained in the minority. Today EPP is the largest delegation in the 751-member European Parliament with 274 members, 14 of whom come from Fidesz. If these 14 were forced or decided to leave on their own, EPP would still remain the biggest caucus. Yet it looks as if most of the Christian Democrats are unwilling to part ways with their Hungarian colleagues.

A few days ago rumors of the possible departure of Fidesz members from EPP began to circulate again. The Europe Society of Hungary held a conference in Brussels about “illiberal democracies” under the sponsorship of the Open Society Foundation and the German liberal Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit. During the conference an unnamed but “first-hand” source claimed that “the place of Fidesz in the EPP delegation might be in danger” unless Viktor Orbán unambiguously declares his commitment to European values. The EPP delegation, he said, expects Orbán to give a clear answer at the forthcoming meeting of the governing body of EPP in Budapest.

The day arrived. Yesterday Orbán gave a long interview to Napi Gazdaság, the new government daily, in which he mostly talked about domestic policy. He promised to steer a calmer course than the one his government followed in the past five years. The little he said about Hungary’s relations with Brussels, however, didn’t sound very promising. Regardless of what he told the EPP leadership today, he said he is planning to continue his fight for Hungary’s sovereignty because “the Hungarian people are in a constant state of endangerment.” As long as the financial, energy, media, and food sectors are in foreign hands, Hungarian sovereignty is just a fiction. This statement belies the domestic calm Orbán now promises. As far as the European Union is concerned, those people who believe Viktor Orbán’s promises will again be disappointed. European values will continue to be trampled on.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP caucus, and Viktor Orbán had a long talk over breakfast where Orbán, as was expected, promised everything Weber wanted to hear and perhaps even more. In no time Weber was convinced that Orbán never really meant to introduce capital punishment, which is probably true because Orbán is a master of double talk. One of his really bad blunders was his reference to “illiberal democracy,” which couldn’t be remedied by claiming later that the word “illiberal” in English doesn’t really mean “illiberal.” After he cleared the capital punishment hurdle, he laid it on thick: “The best possible cooperation with the strongest party of Europe, the European People’s Party and its parliamentary delegation, is in the strongest national interest of Hungary.” As he put it, “There is no Europe, there is no European politics, there is no European Union without the European People’s Party.”

Photo Simon Móricz-Sabján / Népszabadság

Photo Simon Móricz-Sabján / Népszabadság

All this praise was necessary to calm the waters in Brussels, where apparently Orbán had a very hard time at a meeting with the EPP MEPs after his appearance in the European Parliament a couple of weeks ago. But in Budapest the leading members of EPP were unwilling to say anything about Fidesz-EPP relations. As Népszabadság put it, “they remained awkwardly silent about Orbán.”

This is not the end of the story, however. Next week the European Parliament will vote on the Hungarian situation, and the European People’s Party will put forth a resolution reflecting their own attitude toward the question. This resolution is much more sharply worded than any previous ones coming from the party. I will quote here only some of the more important sections. The EPP caucus

4. Affirms Members States’ sovereign right to launch national consultations and engage their citizens in a dialogue on issues which are of great importance and have a direct impact on them; recalls that consultations should reflect the readiness of governments to exercise responsible governance aimed at securing democratic political solutions and respect for fundamental European values;

5. Believes, however, that the content and language of the particular consultation launched in Hungary, on immigration and terrorism, are highly misleading, biased and unbalanced; regrets the fact that it casts blame on the EU institutions and their policies, whereas the responsibility lies with the Member States, and recalls that the Member States are fully involved in the EU legislative process;

8. Recalls that the EU is faced with complex international challenges that require strong cooperation across borders, a willingness to exercise realistic solidarity, and a readiness to take responsible action; believes that the EU can only influence strong actors in other parts of the world, with their different values and political systems, when it shows unity in the most important fields;

9. Invites all Member States to participate in a constructive manner in the current discussion on the European Agenda on Migration, which affects equally internal, external and development policies that have to be implemented in the EU and consequently impact on the African continent and the Middle East;

For some time now there has been talk about Orbán moving the entire 14-member Fidesz caucus over to the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR), where the bulk of the delegation of 70 comes from the United Kingdom and Poland, if the EPP caucus is too hard on him and his policies or if the decision is reached to expel Fidesz MEPs from the caucus. People seem to know that Orbán has made some overtures to ECR and that ECR was also interested in gaining 14 new bodies for its parliamentary delegation. If one takes a look at the resolution for next week’s parliamentary discussion on Hungary which ECR submitted, one can see that, although ECR earlier was very hard on Orbán because of his pro-Russian policy, this time it decided not to take a strong position against the Hungarian government. I will quote here only the passages that relate to the national consultation on immigration and terrorism:

2. Affirms that the Member States also have a sovereign competence to establish their own laws and to hold their own democratic debates and consultations with the electorate at a national level; stresses that this principle is consistent with the sovereignty of a democratically elected government;

3. Supports the Commission’s role, as the guardian of the Treaties, in ensuring that national legislation, including that of Hungary, is in conformity with both the EU Treaties and basic European democratic values and human rights;

4. Stresses the importance of any evaluation and analysis carried out by the Commission and Parliament as to the situation in individual Member States being fact-based and balanced;

More than five years have gone by since Viktor Orbán began his crusade against the European Union and against Hungarian democracy. He encountered no serious opposition despite the fact that everybody must know by now that Hungarian democracy is in tatters. As long as the European People’s Party stands by him, Orbán will continue to flout the European Union, which doles out the money that keeps a mini-dictator in power.

Viktor Orbán’s defeat, Jean-Claude Juncker’s victory

Something new and remarkable happened in the last few months. Due to a “creative reading” of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament seized the initiative and managed to have its own candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, be the likely president of the European Commission. With this act the European Parliament brought the process of electing the Commission president out into the open. Instead of 28 prime ministers bargaining over the nominee behind closed doors and the Parliament meekly voting for their choice, Juncker’s name has been bandied about  in every EU country, including Hungary. Thus, the European Union came a little closer to its citizens. All this was due to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was dead set against Juncker because he found him too much of a “federalist.” After a month of debate the decision has been made. Juncker’s appointment is practically assured since both the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (A&D), the two largest parties in the European Parliament, support Juncker.

The clear loser in this fight is David Cameron, who in the opinion of The Guardian suffered a humiliating defeat. The New York Times wasn’t more charitable. It called the 26:2 vote in favor of Juncker a “humbling defeat.” Neither newspaper mentioned the name of Viktor Orbán, the sole ally of David Cameron who went down with him. Although I doubt that Viktor Orbán can sink much farther in the eyes of the other European politicians.

Europa eros embereThe Hungarian right-wing press was in ecstasy when Hungary’s strong man flexed his muscles and delivered a speech in the European Council in which he announced his opposition to Juncker. He was suddenly seen as an important player in European affairs who will make a real impact on the future of Europe. Perhaps the funniest manifestation of this admiration was the cover of Heti Válasz with the words: “The strong man of Europe: Three years ago they would have removed him, today they cannot bypass him.”

An article appeared today in the same paper which tried to convince its readers that there will be no unpleasant consequences of Viktor Orbán’s opposition to Juncker. Perhaps Juncker will be magnanimous, but I somehow doubt that Juncker will be as forgiving as José Manuel Barroso was when it came to the games the Orbán government played with the European Union.

Viktor Orbán announced that he was going to vote against Juncker because he “promised [his] voters to stop Juncker.” Of course, nothing of the sort ever happened. In neither the national nor the EP election was Juncker’s name ever mentioned. But lying seems to come naturally to the “strong man of Europe.”

When Angela Merkel finally made it clear that she is standing by her party’s choice, Hungarian newspapers foresaw a great defeat for Orbán. It was also not wasted on the Hungarian public, at least not on those who bother to follow the news, that Orbán was unceremoniously left out of the meeting organized by Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, to discuss Juncker’s nomination.

Although it was becoming increasingly apparent that Viktor Orbán was going down, he is not the kind of man who retreats or tones down his rhetoric. On every possible occasion he kept repeating how Hungary rejects any “sneaky” changes to the EU treaty and how he is going to vote against Juncker regardless of what happens. I assume that one reason for Orbán’s decision to pursue this road was domestic: his core voters applaud his fearless stance against the Brussels bureaucrats in defense of the nation. The other reason, at least originally, was his fear that Juncker would not be a pushover.

So, now that it is all over but the shouting, how does Orbán explain himself? He naturally stands by the correctness of his decision: Hungary had to give a “forceful signal that it does not accept the curtailment of national competences.” Yes, the final score was 26:2 but it matters not. He would have voted against Juncker even if he had been the only one to cast a negative vote.

At the press conference after the meeting Orbán talked about his “other accomplishments” during the negotiations. He claimed that his suggestion to lower payroll taxes found universal approval in the Council. His “radical” suggestion to lower energy prices, on the other hand, as he admitted, garnered only a few supporters.

Viktor Orbán and David Cameron after the meeting of the European Council / Reuters

Viktor Orbán and David Cameron after the meeting of the European Council / Reuters

It doesn’t matter how Orbán tries to explain away this defeat, it remains a defeat. One reason Viktor Orbán’s violations of  EP laws were tolerated until now was that the EPP caucus, where Fidesz MEPs sit, badly needed the large Hungarian contingent. But now, for Juncker’s election at least, EPP does not need the Hungarians because they have the support of the S&D. As for all the speculation about Fidesz MEPs leaving EPP and moving over to the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, where the British Conservatives gather, I discard it as a possibility. Fidesz has a much better chance to make a difference in the European Parliament as a member of the EPP caucus.

One of my favorite journalists who writes excellent opinion pieces under the pseudonym of Elek Tokfalvi (the Hungarian mirror translation of Alexis de Tocqueville) with his usual wonderful sense of humor entitled his piece in HVG  about the Juncker victory “We will be a colony of Luxembourg.” Poor Viktor Orbán. He’s stuck with a “federalist” at the helm of the European Commission who actually expects member states to obey EU laws.

Viktor Orbán the defiant

It was expected that Viktor Orbán would not change course and would continue his “war of independence” against the “incompetent bureaucrats in Brussels,” but the vehemence of his attacks surprised many. It was bad enough that he got his most trusted men to propose an anti-EU resolution, but at least he himself didn’t say much after he left Brussels. He let others do the talking. When he finally spoke, however, he only added fuel to the fire.

The Hungarian Parliament’s resolution was met with outrage, at least in certain circles in Brussels. Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, announced that “the text the Fidesz majority in the Hungarian Parliament adopted today is an insult to the European Parliament. It proves yet again that Mr. Orbán does not understand the values – or the role of the institutions – of the European Union.” He added that the socialists “are expecting a statement from the leadership of the EPP Group, clarifying whether they accept that a member of their political family dismisses the role and adopted reports of the European Parliament.”

I wonder what Mr. Swoboda will think when he reads that Orbán, in his regular Friday morning talk with one of the reporters of the Hungarian public radio station, called the European Parliament a “worthless (hitvány) institution.” Or that he accused members of the European Parliament of being agents of multinational financiers. Or that he called them incompetent bureaucrats who cannot solve the problems of the European Union and stomp on the only country that found its way out of the crisis while other members are re-entering the crisis zone. I have the feeling that he will not be pleased.

The key message that Orbán is trying to hammer home at the moment is that the Tavares report is not really about Hungary. It is an attempt by the bureaucrats in Brussels to transform the European Union into an entity different from the one that Hungary joined in 2004. “This is a new phenomenon … that changes the very foundations of the fundamental laws of the Union.”

Taking this contention to its logical (admittedly, never a strong suit of the prime minister) conclusion and assuming that the suggestions of the Tavares report are accepted and a standing monitoring committee is created, we might see Hungary leave the European Union. After all, the Union broke its contract with Hungary and thus Hungary is free to go its own way.  In fact, Attila Mesterházy in his speech to Parliament yesterday asked the prime minister whether his insistence on a written condemnation of the Tavares report was a first move on the road to secession.

Another focal point of Orbán’s talk yesterday was the object of the European Parliament’s criticism. He must not allow his followers to be persuaded that the Tavares report is an indictment of his own government and has nothing to do with the Hungarian people. So, he spent considerable time and effort trying to prove that the real target is the nation itself. In trying to build his case he didn’t rehash the old argument that the two-thirds majority in parliament represents the true will of the Hungarian people. Instead he adopted a new tactic. He claimed that “one million people put into writing their desire to have this constitution.” I assume he means the phony questionnaires he sent out to eight million voters, out of which one million were returned. If you would like to have a good laugh over what Orbán thinks is an endorsement of the constitution, take a look at my discussion of the first and second questionnaires. I should note here that the second questionnaire was sent out two weeks before parliament voted on the new constitution. It is perhaps worth mentioning that, according to Orbán, “the Hungarian people didn’t authorize him to adopt a liberal leaning constitution.” On what basis did he make this claim? There was one question among the many in one of the questionnaires pertaining to the rights and duties of citizens. Normally constitutions concern themselves with rights and not duties. But not the new Hungarian constitution. He recalled that 80% of the people who returned the questionnaires said yes to this particular question. Truly pitiful.

Viktor Orbán's image of Hungary's oppression by the European Union

Viktor Orbán’s image of Hungary’s oppression by the European Union

The comparison of Brussels and Moscow is obviously a favorite of the Fidesz crew, and therefore it was not surprising that the topic came up again. Since Orbán is on slippery ground here, I will  quote from this part of his talk to give you a sense of his message. “Brussels is not Moscow and therefore it has no right to meddle in the lives of the member states. Hungary is a free country. We don’t want to live in a European Empire whose center is Brussels. From where they tell us how to live on the periphery or in the provinces. We want to have a community of free nations.  There is no need for such a center because it would limit the freedom of the member states.” In brief, Brussels is not Moscow yet, but if the Tavares recommendations are adopted, it will be nearly as bad. But Hungary will not be part of an empire. Orbán further emphasized the comparison between Moscow and Brussels when he called the Soviet Union “the Soviet Empire” and added that “since the collapse of the Soviet Empire no one has had the temerity to limit the independence of Hungarians.”

Finally, he promised the Hungarian nation a policy of resistance. The government will not watch helplessly as the European Union takes away the freedom of Hungarians. “Either we allow them to pull our country out from under our feet and pocket our money or we defend our own interests. This is the question, choose!” This last sentence is a paraphrase of two lines in the famous poem, National Song (Nemzeti dal) by Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849) in which the poet asks: “Shall we be slaves? Shall we be free? / This is the question. Choose!” (Rabok legyünk, vagy szabadok? / Ez a kérdés, válasszatok!) Keep in mind that this is the poem that heralded the 1848 revolution. Orbán means business. I hope the European Union does too.

Kim Lane Scheppele: In praise of the Tavares Report

Today Europe acted to hold the Hungarian government to the constitutional values that it eagerly endorsed when it joined the European Union nearly a decade ago.

The action came in the form of the Tavares Report which sailed through the European Parliament with many votes to spare.  The report provides a bill of particulars against the Fidesz government and lays out a strong program to guide European Union institutions in bringing Hungary back into the European fold.   With the passage of this report, Europe has finally said no to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his constitutional revolution.

The Tavares Report is by far the strongest and most consequential official condemnation of the Fidesz consolidation of power over the last three years.  And it creates a strong set of tools for European institutions to use in defending the long-term prospects for Hungarian democracy.

The report passed with a surprisingly strong vote:   370 in favor, 248 against and 82 abstentions.   In a Parliament split almost evenly between left and right, this tally gave the lie to the Hungarian government’s claim that the report was merely a conspiracy of the left.  With about 50 of the 754 MEPs absent, the total number of yes votes was still larger than the total number of MEPs of all of the left parties combined.   In short, even if all MEPs had been present, the left alone still couldn’t account for all of those votes.   And since the 82 abstentions had the effect of allowing the report to go forward, they should be read as soft “yeses” rather than undecided or negative votes.

Most of the abstentions no doubt came from Fidesz’s own party in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP).  Many EPP members signaled ahead of time that they could not back Orbán but also would not vote overtly against the position of their party, which officially supported him without whipping the votes.    FIdesz had been counting on party discipline to save it.  But now it is clear that Fidesz is terribly isolated within the EPP.

The tally on the final report was not a roll-call vote, so we do not know for sure just who voted for it in the end.  But the roll-call votes on the proposed amendments to the bill (see pp. 106-119 of this complicated document)  revealed that many members of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the even-more-conservative group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ERC) voted to keep the report from being diluted at crucial junctures.   Each attempt to weaken the report was rejected openly by 18-22 EPP votes and by 8-12 ERC votes.   We can guess that the MEPs who rejected the hostile changes must have voted in favor of the report in the end, along with even more of their colleagues who could at that point vote anonymously.

For a government that believes that majorities are everything and supermajorities are divine, it must have been hard for Fidesz to see only one-third of those in the European Parliament voting in its defense, when conservatives occupy about half of the seats.   Since many of the votes in the Fidesz column were from cranky Euro-skeptics who simply did not want the EU to gain more powers rather than from those who were solidly backing the broader Fidesz view of the world, the defeat is even more humiliating.    Where was the United European Right when Orbán needed them?   Apparently not in his camp.

When he dramatically appeared in the European Parliament for the debate yesterday, Orbán claimed that the report represented the persecution of a well-meaning right-wing government by the unified and hostile European left.

Today, with this extraordinary vote, we saw a coalition of left and right MEPs standing up together for the values of Europe.

The Tavares report is named after Rui Tavares, the Portuguese MEP who was the rapporteur on this patient and careful study of the Hungarian constitutional revolution.  He deserves much of the credit for the factually impeccable report and as well as for skillfully guiding it through a complicated and perilous process.   Despite repeated attempts to amend the report, gut its strong conclusions and weaken its remedies by Fidesz MEPs and their allies, all efforts to change the report in any substantial way failed at every stage.

Rui Tavares

Rui Tavares

With its acceptance today of the Tavares Report, the European Parliament has created a new framework for enforcing the principles of Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union, which proclaims that the Union is “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

So what, concretely, does the report do?  It puts a very clever system of monitoring and assessment in place.    While there are many elements in the report, the most important four elements are these, identified by paragraph number in the report as voted by the Parliament today:

  1.   An “Article 2 Alarm Agenda” which requires the European Commission in all of its dealings with Hungary to raise only Article 2 issues until such time as Hungary comes into compliance with the report (para. 69).  This Alarm Agenda effectively blocks all other dealings between the Commission and Hungary until Hungary addresses the issues raised in the report.
  2. A “Trilogue” (a three-way dialogue) in which the Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament will each delegate members to a new committee that will engage in a close review of all activities of the Hungarian government relevant to the report (Para. 85).   This committee is charged with assessing the progress that Hungary is making in complying with the list of specific objections that the report identifies.  The Trilogue sets up a system of intrusive monitoring, much more intrusive than the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) from which Hungary just escaped.   Under the EDP, European bodies only looked at the budget’s bottom line to determine whether Hungary’s deficit was within acceptable bounds.  Under the Trilogue, the committee can examine anything that is on the long list of particulars that the report identifies as within its scope.
  3. A “Copenhagen Commission” or high-level expert body through which a panel of distinguished and independent experts will be assigned the power to review continued compliance with the Copenhagen criteria used for admission to the EU on the part of any member state (para. 78-80).   The idea behind this body, elaborated in a report by my Princeton colleague Jan-Werner Müller, is that non-political experts should be given the task of judging whether member states are still acting on the values of Article 2.   Since Orbán kept claiming double standards and dirty politics all of the way through this process in the European Parliament, a Copenhagen Commission consisting of impeccable experts and modeled on the Council of Europe’s Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) would move the process of fact-finding and assessment from political officials to non-partisan experts.
  4. And in the background, there is still Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union.  Article 7, which identifies a procedure through which an EU member state can be deprived of its vote in the European Council and therefore would lose representation in the decision-making processes of the EU, is considered the “nuclear option” – unusable because extreme.   But the Tavares Report holds out the possibility of invoking Article 7 if the Hungarian government does not comply with the monitoring program and reform its ways  (para. 86).    Because the Tavares Report lays out detailed expectations of the Hungarian government, the Parliament and the Council who would have to vote on Article 7 in the end would have a strong factual record to work with if they decided to go nuclear.

These are important tools in the toolkit that European institutions can now use to ensure that a member state of the European Union maintains its European constitutional commitments.

Yesterday at the plenary debate, both Commission President José Manual Barroso and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding indicated their willingness to follow the Parliament’s direction.    We can therefore expect an eager uptake from the Commission on the elements of the report that require the Commission’s active participation.

But perhaps the most breathtaking part of the report is the list of what these various monitoring bodies can examine.    Here it is worth quoting at length from the report itself, because the scope and breadth of the complaints against the Hungarian government indicate that these monitoring processes will be authorized to look at the most fundamental elements of what it means to be a robust democracy committed to the rule of law and the protection of human rights.  Here is the list of items that the Hungarian government must address, taken from para. 71 of the report, where the Parliament . . .

Urges the Hungarian authorities to implement as swiftly as possible all the measures the European Commission as the guardian of the treaties deems necessary in order to fully comply with EU law, fully comply with the decisions of the Hungarian Constitutional Court and implement as swiftly as possible the following recommendations, in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe and other international bodies for the protection of the rule of law and fundamental rights, with a view to fully complying with the rule of law and its key requirements on the constitutional setting, the system of checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary, as well as on strong safeguards for fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, the media and religion or belief, protection of minorities, action to combat discrimination, and the right to property:

On the Fundamental Law:

–             to fully restore the supremacy of the Fundamental Law by removing from it those provisions previously declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court;

–             to reduce the recurrent use of cardinal laws in order to leave policy areas such as family, social, fiscal and budget matters to ordinary legislation and majorities;

–             to implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and, in particular, to revise the list of policy areas requiring a qualified majority with a view to ensuring meaningful future elections;

–             to secure a lively parliamentary system which also respects opposition forces by allowing a reasonable time for a genuine debate between the majority and the opposition and for participation by the wider public in the legislative procedure;

–             to ensure the widest possible participation by all parliamentary parties in the constitutional process, even though the relevant special majority is held by the governing coalition alone;

On checks and balances:

–             to fully restore the prerogatives of the Constitutional Court as the supreme body of constitutional protection, and thus the primacy of the Fundamental Law, by removing from its text the limitations on the Constitutional Court’s power to review the constitutionality of any changes to the Fundamental Law, as well as the abolition of two decades of constitutional case law; to restore the right of the Constitutional Court to review all legislation without exception, with a view to counterbalancing parliamentary and executive actions and ensuring full judicial review; such a judicial and constitutional review may be exerted in different ways in different Member States, depending on the specificities of each national constitutional history, but once established, a Constitutional Court – like the Hungarian one, which after the fall of the communist regime has rapidly built a reputation among Supreme Courts in Europe – should not be subject to measures aimed at reducing its competences and thus undermining the rule of law;

–             to restore the possibility for the judicial system to refer to the case law issued before the entry into force of the Fundamental Law, in particular in the field of fundamental rights;

             to strive for consensus when electing the members of the Constitutional Court, with meaningful involvement of the opposition, and to ensure that the members of the court are free from political influence;

–             to restore the prerogatives of the parliament in the budgetary field and thus secure the full democratic legitimacy of budgetary decisions by removing the restriction of parliamentary powers by the non‑parliamentary Budget Council;

–             to provide clarifications on how the Hungarian authorities intend to remedy the premature termination of the term of office of senior officials with a view to securing the institutional independence of the data protection authority;

On the independence of the judiciary:

–             to fully guarantee the independence of the judiciary by ensuring that the principles of irremovability and guaranteed term of office of judges, the rules governing the structure and composition of the governing bodies of the judiciary and the safeguards on the independence of the Constitutional Court are enshrined in the Fundamental Law;

–             to promptly and correctly implement the abovementioned decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 6 November 2012 and of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, by enabling the dismissed judges who so wish to be reinstated in their previous positions, including those presiding judges whose original executive posts are no longer vacant;

–             to establish objective selection criteria, or to mandate the National Judicial Council to establish such criteria, with a view to ensuring that the rules on the transfer of cases respect the right to a fair trial and the principle of a lawful judge;

–             to implement the remaining recommendations laid down in the Venice Commission’s Opinion No CDL-AD(2012)020 on the cardinal acts on the judiciary that were amended following the adoption of Opinion CDL-AD(2012)001;  [NOTE:  Venice Commission reports on Hungary can be found here.]

On the electoral reform:

–              to invite the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ ODIHR to carry out a joint analysis of the comprehensively changed legal and institutional framework of the elections and to invite the ODIHR for a Needs Assessment Mission and a long and short term election observation.

–             to ensure balanced representation within the National Election Committee;

On the media and pluralism:

–             to fulfil the commitment to further discuss cooperation activities at expert level on the more long‑term perspective of the freedom of the media, building on the most important remaining recommendations of the 2012 legal expertise of the Council of Europe;

–             to ensure timely and close involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including media professionals, opposition parties and civil society, in any further review of this legislation, which regulates such a fundamental aspect of the functioning of a democratic society, and in the process of implementation;

–             to observe the positive obligation arising from European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence under Article 10 ECHR to protect freedom of expression as one of the preconditions for a functioning democracy;

–             to respect, guarantee, protect and promote the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, as well as media freedom and pluralism, and to refrain from developing or supporting mechanisms that threaten media freedom and journalistic and editorial independence;

–             to make sure that objective, legally binding procedures and mechanisms are in place for the selection and appointment of heads of public media, management boards, media councils and regulatory bodies, in line with the principles of independence, integrity, experience and professionalism, representation of the entire political and social spectrum, legal certainty and continuity;

–             to provide legal guarantees regarding full protection of the confidentiality-of-sources principle and to strictly apply related European Court of Human Rights case law;

–             to ensure that rules relating to political information throughout the audiovisual media sector guarantee fair access to different political competitors, opinions and viewpoints, in particular on the occasion of elections and referendums, allowing citizens to form their own opinions without undue influence from one dominant opinion‑forming power;

On respect for fundamental rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities:

–             to take, and continue with, positive actions and effective measures to ensure that the fundamental rights of all persons, including persons belonging to minorities and homeless persons, are respected and to ensure their implementation by all competent public authorities; when reviewing the definition of ‘family’, to take into account the legislative trend in Europe to broaden the scope of the definition of family and the negative impact of a restricted definition of family on the fundamental rights of those who will be excluded by the new and more restrictive definition;

–             to take a new approach, finally assuming its responsibilities towards homeless – and therefore vulnerable – people, as set out in the international treaties on human rights to which Hungary is a signatory, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and thus to promote fundamental rights rather than violating them by including in its Fundamental Law provisions that criminalise homeless people;

–             calls on the Hungarian Government to do all in its power to strengthen the mechanism for social dialogue and comprehensive consultation and to guarantee the rights associated with this;

–             calls on the Hungarian Government to increase its efforts to integrate the Roma and to lay down targeted measures to ensure their protection. Racist threats directed at the Roma must be unequivocally and resolutely repelled;

On freedom of religion or belief and recognition of churches:

–             to establish clear, neutral and impartial requirements and institutional procedures for the recognition of religious organisations as churches, which respect the duty of the State to remain neutral and impartial in its relations with the various religions and beliefs and to provide effective means of redress in cases of non‑recognition or lack of a decision, in line with the constitutional requirements set out in the abovementioned Decision 6/2013 of the Constitutional Court;

One more item was added to this list by amendment from Rui Tavares in the Parliament this morning:

– to cooperate with the European institutions in order to ensure that the provisions of the new National Security Law comply with the fundamental principles of the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, respect for private and family life and the right to an effective remedy.

In short, this is a huge list of items, which together constitute the core of the Fidesz power grab.  This section of the report identifies the list of things that the Hungarian government must now change, and the mechanisms I identified above are the key ones through which compliance will be monitored and assessed.

It is hard to imagine a more sweeping indictment of the Fidesz constitutional revolution in Hungary over these last three years.

But back to where we started:  with today’s vote in the European Parliament.   This long list of offending actions of the Hungarian government was agreed to by left and right in the European Parliament, by a large majority and with serious tools to ensure that the Hungarian government changes its ways and returns to the path of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.

The European Parliament is the most diverse and democratic institution in Europe.  One day when the history of the European constitution is written, the Tavares Report and its enthusiastic acceptance in the European Parliament will stand for Europe at its best.