Tag Archives: LIBE

Márta Pardavi’s testimony at the EP hearing on the Situation in Hungary

Márta Pardavi is co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. A lawyer by training, she leads the organization’s work in the field of refugee protection. She also serves on the board of the PILnet Hungary Foundation, a project funded by the International Visegrád Fund, which supports NGOs in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and the Verzió International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. Between 2003 and 2011 she was a member of the board, and later vice-chair, of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a pan-European alliance of 96 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons.

Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)
European Parliament
Brussels, 7 December 2017

Dear Chair, Minister, members of the European Parliament,

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today, it is an honor.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee was founded in 1989 and has been working to defend human rights in Hungary. Our work focuses on protecting refugees and protecting human rights in detention and in criminal justice and the rule of law. This year, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee was shortlisted for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Vaclav Havel Prize and also was the recipient of the Gulbenkian Foundation’s prestigious Prize in Human Rights, in Portugal.

The common values in Article 2 of the Treaty are core values that are both the pillars and the drivers of our European community and European integration.

In Hungary, the government has systematically weakened checks and balances and the rule of law. The fundamental values of the EU have come under increasing threat and are being systematically disrespected.

Where independent institutions of governance have been dismantled or weakened, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society are essential to counterbalancing excessive power. Public participation in democratic processes and holding government accountable cannot be ensured without free and plural media and a free civil society.

Civil society has many roles, but one is particularly important here today. We speak truth to power. As a human rights organization, we protect individuals and society as a whole against the overreach of power and breaches of our common values as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty. When it says this discussion is nothing but a political attack and interference in domestic affairs, what the Hungarian government questions is exactly the shared nature of our common core European values. However, civil society’s role is to encourage also the European institutions, and others, to act in the interest of upholding our common values.

Space for expressing and accessing critical and pluralistic views in Hungary has been rapidly and alarmingly shrinking in the past year.

Beginning back in 2013, a series of measures began to target, discredit and intimidate civil society organizations that strive to hold the government to account on its obligations concerning anti-corruption, environmental protection, fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. You will remember the series of unjustified investigations and even a police raid in 2014 against NGOs that had received funds from the EEA and Norway Grants NGO Program.

Other measures putting pressure on independent civil society include unfounded allegations by members of the Hungarian government or the ruling party as well as misleading or untrue reporting from government-controlled and government-aligned media. The national consultations and government communication campaigns held this year, you will recall, plastered Hungary in billboards calling to ‘Stop Brussels’ which attacked European institutions, or the currently finishing consultation that has been scaring the country with a sinister plot on migration.

These measures are meant to focus on and attack individuals and groups that express views about public affairs which are different from that of the government. This is no way to respect our common values in a European democracy.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst expressed concern in March 2017 about the continued stigmatization of human rights defenders and about the chilling effect of the inflammatory language used by senior government officials on the public perception of the value of civil society.

In its May resolution, the European Parliament called on the government of Hungary to withdraw the then proposed Act on the Transparency of Foreign-Funded Organizations. Nevertheless, on 13 June, the Hungarian Parliament proceeded to adopt the anti-NGO law.

Under the Anti-NGO Law, any civil society organization that receives over about EUR 23,000 per year from foreign sources should register as an “organization receiving foreign funds” in a state register. Foreign funding can come directly from the European Commission, UN bodies, private foundations or Hungarian citizens who are living abroad. The ‘foreign-funded’ label has to be displayed on all of its publications, print and digital alike. Failure to comply with the law could lead to a judicial procedure that could impose fines or even result in the court dissolving the organization.

The Venice Commission issued its final opinion a week after the law was adopted. It stressed that despite its legitimate aims, the law may not be used to stigmatize NGOs or restrict their ability to carry out their activities. The law causes disproportionate and unnecessary interference with freedom of expression and association, the right to privacy and non-discrimination.

In July 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure on account of the law on foreign-funded NGOs. The Commission found several violations of EU law, namely that the Law interferes unduly with fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular, the right to freedom of association. The Commission concluded that the new law could prevent NGOs from raising funds and would restrict their ability to carry out their work. The new registration, reporting and publicity requirements are foreseen by the law are discriminatory and create an administrative and reputational burden for these organizations. These measures may have a dissuasive effect on the funding from abroad and make it difficult for the concerned NGOs to receive it.

To date, 233 Hungarian NGOs have publicly condemned the Anti-NGO Law as we believe it is unnecessary, stigmatizing and harmful. Unnecessary, because Hungarian civil society organizations are already transparent in their operations, provide accurate information about their donors and finances in annual reports and carry out their activities before the public. Stigmatizing, because the law implies that organizations which work for the benefit of Hungarian society by receiving international grants for their work pose a threat to the country. Harmful, because it undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.

There is a reason to fear that the newly adopted law will not be the endpoint of the several years’ long governmental campaign against independent civil society organizations. On the contrary, this is a new step in a long process that aims at fully discrediting and hindering independent civil society organizations.

This anti-NGO law is closely modelled after the Russian ‘foreign agent law’, which has made the work of independent pro-democracy and human rights NGOs extremely difficult. In many cases, good NGOs doings highly important work have had to close down.

Not only is the anti-NGO legislation itself strikingly similar in Russia and Hungary. The smear campaigns against prominent NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, are also very similar to what goes on in Russia.

Now, the government has begun to make references to national security risks. Already at the end of October, the Prime Minister and other government ministers spoke about having instructed the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies to look into how the so-called Soros-network has links to what it calls ‘Brussels’, European institutions such as the Parliament and the Commission.

As a Hungarian, it makes me upset that instead of fostering tolerance, the government of Hungary fuels intolerance — with taxpayer funds.

In addition to the constant Brussels-bashing in the billboards and full-page advertisements that I am sure you have seen pictures of as well, the hugely expensive taxpayer-funded national consultations are driving intolerance and xenophobia in Hungary to alarmingly high levels. Fearmongering against migrants and refugees, against Muslims, against foreigners who might look different than an average Hungarian, has created widespread hatred and fear in society. In small communities, locals have prevented a handful of recognized refugees from holidaying in their village. Elsewhere, foreigners staying in local bed and breakfasts must show their vaccination certificates under a local decree.

While radical, extremist and racist views like these are found in many parts of Europe, it is not governments themselves who fuel and disseminate them with taxpayer funds.

Politicians and governments can lead by example. However, the government of Hungary is setting a worrying and dangerous example when it comes to human rights and rule of law protection. My country has become a widely quoted example of an illiberal state in the heart of Europe, in the European Union. We are witnessing how this example is being followed elsewhere in the EU, most notably in Poland, but not only there.

Over the years and this year, the European Commission has launched infringement measures for a significant number of rules of law and human rights issues in Hungary. However, these infringement measures have not been able to address, let alone remedy the systemic breaches of rule of law and human rights in Hungary. In our European toolbox, we have further tools to address the broader concerns — of which I have highlighted a few here, but for lack of time, not all.

I haven’t spoken about refugee protection; independence of the judiciary, corruption, equality between men and women, minorities — the list of concerns goes on.

The tools to fix them need to be taken out before it’s too late.

Thank you for your attention.

December 10, 2017

European Union salvo against Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state

Yesterday an editorial appeared in Magyar Hírlap, a government-sponsored daily paper. The author reassured the paper’s readers that “yesterday nothing new happened; nothing was decided; the political, financial, legal, and communication war [between the EU and Hungary] will continue.” And in any case, next week there will be an important EU summit where “the power relations between Brusselites and the camp of those countries that defend sovereignty can shift further toward the latter.”

Admittedly, it is important for a government publication to spread optimistic messages, but the fact is that official statements belie these hopeful predictions. Viktor Orbán rarely gives “extraordinary” television interviews, but after the barrage of bad news coming from Brussels he felt it necessary to explain his version of the events.

What is the Hungarian government facing at the moment? Two different proceedings against the country are underway. The first is a triad of infringement procedures. The second, the beginning of the Article 7(1) process.

Infringement procedures are legal actions against a member country that fails to implement EU laws. There are stages to these procedures, which basically involve an exchange of legal opinions. After the second such unsatisfactory exchange the Commission sends the case to the European Court of Justice. In the event the judgment goes against the country and that country doesn’t rectify the situation, the Commission will propose that the Court impose financial penalties which, depending on the seriousness of the infringement, may be quite high, especially if the penalty is imposed for each day the country is not in compliance.

Hungary at the moment has three serious infringement cases under consideration at the European Court of Justice: the country’s refusal to accept a small quota of refugees, its modification of the laws regarding foreign-financed civic groups, and the amendments to the education law that placed Central European University in a precarious position. Its continued existence is still very much in question.

The other “drama” is being played out in the European Parliament, where a resolution was adopted earlier that calls for launching Article 7(1). It instructs the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to draw up a formal resolution for a plenary vote. On December 7 there was a hearing on the issue, where Péter Szijjártó represented the Hungarian government. The adoption of a resolution calling for the initiation of Article 7(1) proceedings, which could result in the suspension of voting rights for the targeted country, is a first in the history of the European Parliament.

These are significant matters, so I wasn’t surprised that Viktor Orbán, who rarely initiates television appearances, decided to grace the newly appointed Echo TV with his presence. Of course, Orbán’s interviews are so obviously staged that one can easily pick out all the “key words” that were supplied to the anchors ahead of time. And naturally the interviewers never ask “difficult questions.” One of the messages of government communication from here on will be that none of these “attacks” on Hungary has anything to do with the Orbán government’s transgression of European laws and values. They are inflicted on Hungary either because the Orbán government’s actions have had an adverse effect on the economic interests of foreign multinational companies or because they interfere in some mysterious way with the goals of the bureaucrats in Brussels.

In this interview Orbán renewed his claim that economic interests triggered the Tavares Report of 2013, which was a sharply worded, hard hitting report on the state of democracy in Hungary. After the European Parliament accepted Rui Tavares’s report, the Hungarian government wrote a resolution of its own which was then submitted to parliament. It was a verbose, clichéd piece of writing which included a sentence that struck me as odd at the time. It claimed that the Tavares Report was an answer to Hungary’s “reducing the cost of energy paid by families. This may hurt the interests of many European companies that for years have had windfall profits from their monopoly in Hungary.” That claim was ridiculous in 2013, if for no other reason than that the Tavares Report, which had nothing to do with economics, had been in the making for a year and a half while the Orbán government’s lowering of energy prices took place about two months before the release of the report. I really wonder whether by now Viktor Orbán actually believes this lie since he used the same kind of rationalization to explain away the report that is currently being drafted in the European Parliament.

Viktor Orbán claimed in 2013 that the very thorough analysis of the Orbán government’s transgression of democratic norms was nothing but a series of political attacks. Today he claims the same. As far as he is concerned, all disputes about democratic norms were closed before 2013. The Hungarian government has “the paper” to show that the European Commission and the Venice Commission were totally satisfied with all the changes that had been made to the media law and the constitution. It is not a lack of democracy that the Commission and the Parliament are really worried about today. EU politicians are concerned that Hungary’s stance on migration will hurt “their interests.” As if it was in the interest of the European Union to be faced with a million and a half refugees and immigrants. It is hard to fathom that anyone believes such nonsense or, for that matter, that any self-respecting politician can utter such an absurdity. And yet Orbán, with a straight face and in all seriousness, discussed the European Union’s plans to create a “continent of mixed population.” I assume I don’t have to add that George Soros and his network are behind this diabolical plan.

The key word, by the way, in this interview was sovereignty, which was kindly supplied by Orbán’s old friend Zsolt Bayer, one of the two anchors. Often, when Orbán encounters a word that is borrowed from abroad, like sovereignty (szuverenitás), used in Hungarian since 1786, he feels compelled to explain what the word actually means. This time he came up with “freedom” (szabadság) as a good equivalent. “At stake is the question of Hungarian freedom,” he claimed. The debate in the Union “touches on the question of freedom.”

With this switch from sovereignty to freedom, Orbán moved the discussion to an entirely different plane. Sovereignty means complete independence and self-government. Freedom, on the other hand, has many meanings, including “the condition of not being subject to a despotic or oppressive power,” and that can conjure up all sorts of xenophobic reactions in Hungarians. “Brussels is after us.” And indeed, some of the comments I read today in right-wing papers were revealing. One genius announced that the reason for the five-times higher living standards in Austria is Vienna’s exploitation and oppression of Hungary for five hundred years. The same can also be heard about the European Union’s plutocrats. Hungarian nationalism can easily be awakened by an appeal to “freedom,” a ploy Orbán loves to use. And it always does the trick.

December 9, 2017

Another European summit, with special attention to the Visegrád 4

The official word sent by the Hungarian government to foreign news agencies about the meeting of the Visegrád 4 prime ministers with President Jean-Claude Juncker over a lavish dinner, which included Jerusalem artichokes and foie gras, was that the meeting was a “success.” Viktor Orbán claimed that the V4 leaders presented a united front on every issue and succeeded in demonstrating to the EC president that the V4 is “a tight, effective, and successful alliance.” It is almost certain that, over and above the migrant issue, the “accelerating drift … toward authoritarianism” in some of the East European countries which most diplomats in Brussels consider “a more serious threat for the EU than Brexit” was also discussed. According to Bloomberg, the dinner “yielded a promise that the commission will seek to build an environment of consensus” between the Visegrád 4 countries and the rest of the European Union.

Source: Népszava / Photo: AFP/Dario Pignatelli

Viktor Orbán, who is capable of staging a fight even with a nonexistent foe, couldn’t go home empty-handed and simply say that the meeting was useful and that he, together with all the others, signed the closing document of the summit. Therefore, the Hungarian government media focused attention on a report by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) of the European Parliament, which would impose mandatory migrant quotas and strip non-complying member states of EU funding in an effort to revamp the present asylum law. The rapporteur of the report is Cecilia Wikström, a Swedish liberal member of parliament.

What is this new plan all about? It does demand a “permanent and automatic relocation mechanism without thresholds,” calculated on GDP and population size. Refugees with relatives in countries will be able to join them; others will be offered four countries on a rotating basis, from which they can choose one where their case will be decided. As Wikström explained, “it means if the person enters Greece, chooses to go to Hungary, God forbid, then that person is allocated to Hungary.” I’m sure that the committee members spent a great deal of time and effort on this report, but anyone who has been following the ups and downs of the refugee crisis in Europe knows that this plan is dead in the water, especially since the day after it passed Donald Tusk made clear that any and all distribution of the refugees must be voluntary.

The Hungarian government papers are full of stories about the limitless compulsory distribution of migrants, without explaining the status of a parliamentary committee report, which may or may not be approved by the European Parliament. And even if it sails through the plenary session, it must be approved by the European Council, that is, all the heads of governments of the member states, including Viktor Orbán. It was only HVG that pointed out that a committee report means little in the legislative process. Looking upon it as a weighty final decision is just a political ploy. So, Viktor Orbán’s talk about “the bullet already in the barrel,” which will force all countries to accept migrants without limit, merely serves his political agenda. He knows as well as anyone that the general drift of thinking in Europe has been moving away from compulsory quotas and toward effective border control and limited acceptance of bona fide refugees. The European Commission would still like all member countries to participate in the processing of the refugees and their distribution, but only on a voluntary basis.

The closing statement which Orbán signed urges the implementation of Turkey’s acceptance of ineligible migrants; it presses for the strengthening of the EU borders; it doubles efforts at the curbing of human trafficking; it supports easier transfer of information between member states; and, finally, it advocates financial assistance to Libya and other African countries. According to news reports, Viktor Orbán suggested setting up a common fund to assist Italy in the defense of its borders.

The domestic propaganda effort is concentrating on the Wikström report. Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman, was dispatched to the state radio where he assured listeners that “the Hungarian government intends to oppose [the suggestions of the report] by all means possible.” What “LIBE is doing is nothing other than what we call the Soros plan.”

Kinga Gál (Fidesz), one of the deputy chairpersons of LIBE, gave an interview to Magyar Idők in which she called the report a “European invitation to all the migrants of the world.” She added that she hopes that “the European Council will have a sense of responsibility and common sense” and will, if it ever comes to that, refuse to endorse this plan. The Hungarian government still has to struggle “to save a small slice of the country’s national sovereignty.” Orbán described the Wikström report as “the strongest attack against the sovereignty of the country” to date.” National unity would be needed, but “the opposition parties support the migrant policy of Brussels that is based on compulsory quotas,” a false claim, by the way.

What did Viktor Orbán have to say about the Visegrád 4-Juncker dinner? He came to the conclusion that the difference between East and West is “worrisome, almost hopeless” and that “these differences are not so much political in nature but are rooted in cultural differences.” Nonetheless, the meeting was useful because “we could tell Mr. Juncker that we would like to receive more respect for the citizens of the Central European states, including the Hungarians.” Mina Andreeva, spokeswoman of EC President Juncker, called the meeting “friendly and constructive.” As Népszava’s correspondent in Brussels put it, “the president of the European Commission offered compromise and consensus as the main course to the four guests.” Since they agreed to repeat the meetings in the future, I assume the offers were accepted.

Viktor Orbán gave no press conference to the four or five Hungarian reporters who were waiting for him both after the dinner and a day later, at the end of the summit. With his refusal to talk to the reporters, he broke with his past practice of showering reporters with a litany of complaints about the decisions reached or trying to convince them of his own importance during the negotiations. Perhaps his silence indicates a less belligerent stance as far as the European Union is concerned. In any case, his attacks at home this time were directed only against the European Parliament and not against the “Brussels” bureaucrats.

October 20, 2017

A severe blow to the Orbán government: The Tavares report is accepted by the LIBE Commission

After less than a day of very hard work getting everything installed and tweaked on my new computer I’m up and running with only minor temporary inconveniences. So, it is time to return to my daily routine of  monitoring the Hungarian media. Today I’ll concentrate on the Tavares report that was prepared for a vote in the European Parliamentary Committee of  Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

You may recall that I left off with the approximately 500 amendments to the draft report, of which about 200 were submitted by Fidesz MEPs and a Slovak and a Romanian member of parliament of Hungarian nationality. The vote was scheduled for June 19.

Given the enormous number of amendments, Hungarian newspapers predicted that the session would be very long, taken up with debating each of the submitted amendments, and they seemed to be surprised that after only two or three hours it was all over. They also emphasized that the committee was highly divided on the issue and so the vote one way or the other would be very close. That prediction also turned out to be erroneous. Of the 58 people present (the committee has 60 members) 31 voted for the report, 19 against it, and 8 abstained. I wouldn’t call that exactly close. In fact, observers in Brussels were somewhat surprised at the outcome. They expected a much closer vote, considering that half of the members come from either the European People’s Party (EPP) or the group of conservatives and reformers.

Kinga Gál (Fidesz), one of the deputy chairmen of LIBE, immediately announced that it was a lie that some EPP members voted for the Tavares report, adding that a few of them abstained. But the numbers don’t add up. Someone from that group had to endorse the report. After all, there were 29 right-of-center MEPs present. But even Fidesz MEPs had to admit that, in spite of very heavy lobbying, they failed to alter the text of the original proposal in any significant way. Most of the Fidesz amendments were thrown out.

One substantive suggestion came from the chairman of LIBE, Juan Fernando López, who proposed some additional text. He suggested that a serious investigation of the new Hungarian election laws be undertaken and that the Office of Human Rights actually monitor the forthcoming election. Quite a blow for a member country of the European Union. A first.

It seems that some Hungarian MEPs felt compelled to make a scene. I guess nobody who knows anything about Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) will be terribly surprised to learn that she managed to wreak havoc in the committee meeting. Morvai is not a member of LIBE, she was there only as a spectator. Just before Chairman López called for a final vote, she interrupted the proceedings. She  denied the legality of the procedures followed by the committee and held up a poster reading: “The European Union is a dictatorship.” López warned her that “the European Parliament is not a circus.”

The tooth lion of the Chain Bridge, Budapest / commons.wikipedia.org

The toothless lion of the Chain Bridge, Budapest commons.wikipedia.org

As it turned out, some members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats were convinced that Morvai was a Fidesz MEP; after all, her arguments in defense of the Hungarian government’s position were identical to those articulated by Enikő Győri, undersecretary in charge of European Union Affairs, except Győri used milder language. She called the report “deeply biased” and claimed that even the report’s facts don’t stand up to scrutiny. The committee discarded corrections of factual errors that EPP members submitted to the committee. Therefore, the Hungarian government still cannot subscribe to the report’s conclusions. She contended that the report is a political document that was heavily influenced by party politics. After all, she claimed, European parliamentary elections will be held next year and therefore it was predictable that the split in the committee was entirely along party lines. As we have seen, Győri is not exactly reliable on this point. Her verdict was that “the committee clearly overstepped its authority.”

The Fidesz MEPs went even further. They announced point blank that the Tavares report’s acceptance by the LIBE commission has “neither legal, nor budgetary, nor economic consequences.” The same is true of the possible adoption of the report by the full plenary session of the European Parliament sometime in July. One could ask: if the European Parliament is such a toothless lion, what on earth is the Fidesz delegation doing in Brussels? Why do they even bother to participate in the useless activities of the European Parliament?

As for the Tavares report, it is no more than “a party dictate of the European Left.” As far as the Fidesz delegation is concerned, this document is simply unacceptable. In any case, it is the end of the excessive deficit procedure that really matters and that was approved by Ecofin today. The delegation also expressed its optimism concerning a satisfactory resolution to the Hungarian government’s debate surrounding the fourth amendment to the new Hungarian constitution which, they are certain, will end in Hungary’s favor. I find this last prediction just a bit premature considering the very strong condemnation of the latest constitutional amendments by the Venice Commission, which is comprised of internationally renowned constitutional lawyers.

There is no question that the adoption of the Tavares report is a severe blow to the Hungarian government. The answers referencing bias, party politics, and the European Parliamentary election next year sound hollow, especially if one takes the trouble to read the Tavares report or the opinions of the Venice Commission.

Rui Tavares: Letter to the citizens of Hungary and his fellow European citizens

Source: aspirinab.com

Source: aspirinab.com

As you all know by now, European Member of Parliament Rui Tavares, who represents Portugal, was the rapporteur of the 30-page draft report that is hailed by most experts on Hungarian affairs as a singularly perceptive analysis of the current state of Hungarian democracy. The Hungarian government and the pro-government media, by contrast, accused Tavares of partiality and ignorance. In no time they also  discovered that he was a communist–their ultimate insult, which is an absolutely baseless accusation. Rui Tavares is a member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. He is also a member of the parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.  It was in this capacity that he probed into the present situation in Hungary.

Rui Tavares produced a thorough assessment of the constitutional changes that have taken place in the last two or three years and their effects on Hungarian democracy. The Hungarian government will have a difficult time countering his arguments, although intellectual hurdles have never seemed to deter them in the past. I already devoted a post to the amendments offered by some of the Fidesz members of the European Parliament and Hungarians nationals from Romania and Slovakia.

The pro-government Hungarian press called the draft report a “left-liberal ultimatum,” and the government spokesmen came close to describing it as a collection of baseless accusations. In light of the findings of the Venice Commission, however, it seems that Rui Tavares was spot on.

I assume that he is getting hundreds of accusatory letters because he decided to write a letter to Hungarian citizens, in English and in Hungarian, to explain what the document is all about. The letter also helps us better understand the inner workings of the European Parliament.

Below you will find the English original of Rui Tavares’s letter followed by its Hungarian translation. I think we should all thank Mr. Tavares for his work and his devotion to the cause of Hungarian democracy.  By the way, I understand that he has found Hungary such an interesting country that he has begun learning the language.

  * * *

Dear Hungarian citizens,

Dear EU fellow citizens,

I come from a country which was ruled during 48 years by an authoritarian regime. Twelve years after the end of this dictatorship, Portugal has acceded to the European Union, finally consolidating the democracy for which so many people had struggled during so many years.

Your country, Hungary, has suffered during more than 40 years of a horrible regime. In 1989, you finally got your freedom from the communist regime and a little over a decade later your country became a Member of the European Union.

The European project may have imperfections, but its main purpose serves us all – and mainly those European citizens like us whose countries have faced alone many years of terror under undemocratic regimes. The foundations of our common endeavour are described in article 2 of the revised Treaty on the European Union of 2009, which states 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”. Article 2 then goes on to say that “these values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” Hungary is always cited as an example in this process: your country actively participated in the drafting of this important article – the first substantive commitment of the Union – and was the first EU Member State to ratify the Treaty.

The promotion of the values of democracy, rule of law and human rights is also the first objective of the Union, according to article 3. And then there is another important article in the Treaties which has been regularly and fairly quoted by your government. It is article 4: “The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties […] The Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives”.

These Treaties entered into force in December 2009 and since then Member States, the European Institutions and us all as European citizens have to deal and comply with this new and recent legal basis.

In February 2012, on the basis of this new legal framework, the European Parliament decided to have a report on the situation of the Fundamental Rights in Hungary. As any other official text by the European Parliament, the decision to draft this report was made by the majority of the democratically elected members of this house. Let me remind you that, since the last European Elections in 2009, no single political group has the majority in the European Parliament, although the by far biggest group is the EPP to which the party of the current Hungarian government belongs. It has both been said that there is a right-wing majority at the European Parliament, and that there is a left-wing majority. But the most important point is that all 754 Members of the European Parliament take seriously their responsibility to guarantee that the fundamental rights of the 500 million EU citizens are respected, protected and promoted.

Two months after this decision, I was appointed as rapporteur for this report, the first one dealing with the contents that I have described above in the case of a specific country. There were many constitutional and legal changes in Hungary in recent times, and to assess them fairly is a task that needs to be conducted in a careful and respectful manner. In order to ensure a transparent and fair procedure, I have decided that the first step would be the drafting of 5 working documents on sectorial aspects of the legal, institutional and constitutional changes in Hungary. This was an open and collaborative work and, for the first time in the European Parliament, the working documents – which are normally only signed by the rapporteur – were drafted by me and one representative of 5 of the main political groups represented at the European Parliament: the EPP, the S&D, ALDE, GREENS/EFA, ECR and GUE/NGL. These working-documents were one by one debated in the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament, usually abbreviated as LIBE. We have also received comments from the Hungarian government and the working documents were therefore updated taking into consideration the Hungarian authorities’ position.

This permanent dialogue – respecting pluralism and democracy at the European and at the national level – was very important for the last year’s preparatory work to the drafting of this report.

The text that I have presented is the result that I have derived of this broad consultation. But this is not the end of the procedures. This draft was submitted to a first debate, it passed by a phase of amendments that were considered in subsequent debate and it will then be voted in the Civil Liberties’ Committee; we will then have another stage of amendments by the political groups and then, finally, a debate and a vote in the plenary of the European Parliament. The respect of this parliamentary procedure with sufficient time and occasion for all voices do be heard is crucial to ensure that the report is not one-sided, incorrect or somehow applying double standards.

If you read the draft report, you will find out that it chooses to pursue a constructive political dialogue with the Hungarian authorities in the next months, together with the other European Institutions. And the main objective of this dialogue is precisely to avoid a risk of breach of the foundational values listed in article 2. On the other hand, you will not find two things that have been incorrectly mentioned in public debate: there is no mention of withdrawing the voting rights of Hungary at this stage (under article 7.2 of the Treaties) and I have refused to raise the possibility of economic sanctions to be directed at Hungary.

The majority of the specific recommendations you will find in the report do not concern Hungary but the European Institutions themselves. Indeed, this should not and is not only about Hungary. This is about any other Member of the European Union. This is about us all, as European citizens. It is why I am of the opinion that we have to have concrete mechanisms to ensure that the values stated in article 2 are not at risk. And that these mechanisms should follow objective assessments of all Member-States, big or small, be they founding members or recent accessions to our Union. Your government has correctly raised this issue, which I try to tackle in the report by suggesting the creation of a non-political high-level group that would follow up, and make recommendations, on the work carried out by EU institutions, starting with the European Parliament itself.

The sovereignty of Hungary must be respected; I will indeed welcome any comment by the Hungarian authorities and will amend myself my own text in case of need. We have done it with the working documents I have told you about, and we will do it with this draft report.

I am sure that you are already aware of the dialogue that we have had and will continue to have with the Hungarian authorities and I hope you will closely follow the work we are doing all together on this report.

You will find the Hungarian version of the report in the Civil Liberties committee webpage; I invite you to read it and to send your comments to my email address.

Best regards,

Rui Tavares, Member of the European Parliament

* * *

Kedves magyar polgárok!

Kedves európai uniós polgártársaim!

Olyan országból származom, ahol egy autoriter hatalom döntött sorsunkról 48 éven át. 12 évvel a diktatúra vége után Portugália csatlakozott az Európai Unióhoz, és megszilárdítottuk hazánkban a demokráciát, amelyre oly sok ember vágyott oly hosszú ideje.

Az Önök országa, Magyarország is egy szörnyű rezsim uralma alatt szenvedett több mint 40 évig. 1989-ben azonban végre felszabadult a kommunista diktatúra alól, és másfél évtized múlva csatlakozott az Európai Unióhoz.

Az Európai Unió sem tökéletes, de a fő célja mindannyiunk érdekét szolgálja – és kifejezetten azokét, akiknek a hazája a miénkhez hasonlóan sok éven át egyedül nézett szembe egy diktatórikus hatalom terrorjával.  Közös törekvéseink alapját a 2009-ben elfogadott Szerződés az Európai Unióról 2. cikke tartalmazza, amely kimondja, hogy “az Unió az emberi méltóság tiszteletben tartása, a szabadság, a demokrácia, az egyenlőség, a jogállamiság, valamint az emberi jogok – ideértve a kisebbségekhez tartozó személyek jogait – tiszteletben tartásának értékein alapul.” A cikk így folytatódik: „Ezek az értékek közösek a tagállamokban, a pluralizmus, a megkülönböztetés tilalma, a tolerancia, az igazságosság, a szolidaritás, valamint a nők és a férfiak közötti egyenlőség társadalmában.” Magyarországot mindig példaként emlegetik a 2. cikk megalkotásához vezető folyamattal kapcsolatban, hiszen aktívan részt vett a cikk megszövegezésében, amelyben az EU először deklarálta az alapvető értékei iránti elköteleződését. Magyarország elsőként ratifikálta az új szerződést a tagállamok közül.

A demokrácia, a jogállamiság és az emberi jogok előmozdítása az Unió első számú célja a Szerződés 3. cikke szerint. Létezik még egy nagyon fontos elem, a 4. cikk, melyet az Önök kormánya is sokszor idéz: “Az Unió tiszteletben tartja a tagállamoknak a Szerződések előtti egyenlőségét […] A tagállamok segítik az Uniót feladatainak teljesítésében, és tartózkodnak minden olyan intézkedéstől, amely veszélyeztetheti az Unió célkitűzéseinek megvalósítását.”

Az Európai Unió szerződései 2009 decemberében léptek hatályba, és azóta a tagállamoknak, az európai intézményeknek és nekünk, európai polgároknak tiszteletben kell tartanunk ezt az új jogi alapvetést.

2012 februárjában az új jogi kereteknek megfelelően az Európai Parlament úgy döntött, hogy jelentést készít az alapvető jogok helyzetéről Magyarországon. Mint minden hivatalos dokumentum esetében, amely az Európai Parlamentben készül, a demokratikusan megválasztott képviselők többsége határozott ennek a jelentésnek az elfogadásáról is. Hadd emlékeztessem Önöket, hogy a 2009-es európai választások óta egyik parlamenti frakció sem rendelkezik a szavazatok többségével, habár a legnagyobb képviselőcsoport az Európai Néppárté, amelyhez a jelenlegi magyar kormánypárt is tartozik. Sokszor hallani, hogy az Európai Parlamentben jobboldali többség van, mások szerint meg baloldali többség. Ami igazán fontos, hogy a Parlament mind a 754 tagja komolyan vegye a felelősségét, és biztosítsa az 500 millió uniós polgár alapvető jogainak érvényesítését, tiszteletben tartását és megóvását.

Két hónappal a parlamenti döntés után engem jelöltek ki a jelentés elkészítésére, amely az első a maga nemében, mivel az említett értékeket vizsgálja egy tagország esetében. Az alkotmányt és a törvényeket nagyon sok alkalommal módosították az utóbbi időben Magyarországon; mindezek korrekt értékelése során körültekintéssel és tisztelettel kell eljárni. Azért, hogy biztosítsam az eljárás átláthatóságát és elfogulatlanságát, úgy döntöttem, hogy első lépésként öt munkadokumentumot készítek, kategóriákra bontva a jogi, intézményi és alkotmányos változásokat. A munka az átláthatóságra és az együttműködésre épült, és – az Európai Parlament történetében először – a munkadokumentumokat, amelyeket általában csak a jelentéstevő jegyzi, az öt legnagyobb politikai csoport képviselőivel közösen szövegeztem meg (Európai Néppárt, Szocialisták és Demokraták Progresszív Szövetsége, Liberálisok és Demokraták Szövetsége Európáért, Zöldek/Európai Szabad Szövetség, Európai Konzervatívok és Reformerek, Európai Baloldal/Északi Baloldal). Ezeket a munkadokumentumokat külön-külön megvitatta az Állampolgári jogi, bel- és igazságügyi bizottság, amelyet általában „LIBE” néven rövidítenek.  Emellett megkaptuk a magyar kormány véleményét is, és a munkadokumentumokat a magyar hatóságok álláspontjának figyelembevételével frissítettük.

Ez a folyamatos párbeszéd – amely tiszteletben tartotta a pluralizmus és a demokrácia követelményeit mind európai, mind nemzeti szinten – nagyon fontos részét képezte az elmúlt év előkészítő munkájának.

A jelentés tervezete, amelyet bemutattam a szakbizottságnak, ennek a széles körű konzultációnak az eredménye. A folyamat azonban itt még nem ért véget. A szöveget először megvitatta a LIBE bizottság. Majd beérkeztek a módosító javaslatok, amelyekről a megvitatásuk után végül a LIBE bizottság fog szavazni. Ezek után a képviselőcsoportok nyújthatják be módosító javaslataikat a szöveghez, majd az Európai Parlament plenáris ülése fogja megvitatni a jelentést, és végül szavazni fog a végleges szövegről. Ez a parlamenti eljárás megfelelő időt és lehetőséget biztosít arra, hogy mindenki hozzászólhasson. Mindez elengedhetetlen ahhoz, hogy a jelentés ne legyen egyoldalú, ne tartalmazzon hibákat és ne mérjen kettős mércével.

Ha elolvassa a jelentéstervezetet, látni fogja: a cél az, hogy a következő hónapokban építő jellegű politikai párbeszéd alakuljon ki a magyar hatóságok és az európai intézmények között. Ennek a párbeszédnek a lényege pedig pontosan az, hogy elkerüljük annak a veszélyét, hogy a 2. cikkben megnevezett alapvető értékek sérüljenek. Másrészt észre fogja venni, hogy két, jelenleg közszájon forgó elem is hiányzik a jelentéstervezetből: a szöveg nem említi, hogy meg kellene vonni Magyarország szavazati jogát a Szerződés 7. cikk (2) bekezdése alapján.  Azzal sem értek egyet, hogy Magyarországgal szemben gazdasági szankciókat kellene kilátásba helyezni.

A jelentéstervezetben felsorolt javaslatok legnagyobb része nem is Magyarországot, hanem az európai intézményeket érinti. A jelentés nem szólhat és nem is szól kizárólag Magyarországról. A jelentés az EU valamennyi tagállamáról, mindannyiunkról, európai polgárokról szól. Ezért az a véleményem, hogy be kell vezetnünk olyan konkrét eljárásokat, amelyekkel biztosíthatjuk a 2. cikk alapértékeinek sérthetetlenségét. Úgy gondolom, hogy ezeknek az eljárásoknak objektív alapokon kell nyugodniuk, és minden tagállamra érvényesnek kell lenniük, legyen az kisebb vagy nagyobb ország, alapító vagy nemrégiben csatlakozott tagállam. Az Önök kormánya jó indítványt tett ezzel kapcsolatban, és én is pontosan ezt szeretném tenni: olyan politikamentes, magas szintű szerv létrehozását javaslom, amely figyelemmel kíséri az EU intézményeinek munkáját és javaslatokkal él ezzel kapcsolatban ― kezdve az Európai Parlamenttel.

Magyarország szuverenitását tiszteletben kell tartani. Éppen ezért üdvözlöm a magyar hatóságok bármilyen észrevételét. Én magam fogom módosítani a saját jelentésemet, amennyiben szükséges lesz. Az említett munkadokumentumokkal is pontosan így jártunk el, és a jelenlegi jelentéstervezettel sem lesz másképp.

Biztos vagyok benne, hogy hallottak már arról a párbeszédről, melyet a magyar hatóságokkal folytatunk, és remélem, hogy figyelemmel fogják kísérni közös munkánkat a jelentéssel kapcsolatban.

A jelentéstervezet magyar nyelvű változatát megtalálhatja az Állampolgári jogok bizottságának honlapján. Kérem, olvassa el a tervezetet, és javaslatait küldje el bátran e-mailben, az Európai Parlament honlapján található címemre.

Szívélyes üdvözlettel:

Rui Tavares, európai parlamenti képviselő

Coming to an understanding with Viktor Orbán and his followers?

Yesterday’s post didn’t excite too many people. But how can one compete with Trianon? Who cares about the LIBE Commission’s report and the 500 some proposed “amendments,” mostly from Fidesz MPs and their Hungarian friends from Slovakia and Romania? On top of it all some people didn’t even get the details although I gave a link to the amendments that are available on the Internet.

But isn’t it the case that these amendments are a hundred times more relevant to the fate of the Hungarian people than absolutely useless discussions of a treaty, however just or unjust it was, that cannot be altered? Revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungary’s interwar foreign policy and some people were convinced, as was John F. Montgomery, U.S. ambassador in Budapest in the 1930s, that “the Hungarian people were not quite sane on that subject.” Well, it seems that some Hungarians are returning to the very same insanity that led Hungary nowhere except to another lost war, the loss of millions of its people, and a series of absolutely tragic events. But there are always people who are incapable of learning from past mistakes. Just like the Bourbons.

So, discussing Trianon endlessly and crying over Hungary’s misfortunes are dead ends. The Venice Commission’s opinion and the LIBE Commission recommendations, on the other hand, are of the utmost importance. The outcome of the investigations of the Hungarian government’s reshaping of Hungarian democracy into an authoritarian or even worse regime affects the very future of Hungarian democracy.

Let’s talk a little bit about the fate of Hungarian democracy. Some people are convinced that true democracy no longer exists in Hungary due to Viktor Orbán’s “renewal” of the country. I know that a lot of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are certain that Viktor Orbán and his ilk will be running Hungary for the next twenty years. They are certain that Fidesz is unbeatable because the party communicates better, because all the state institutions are in party hands, and because the new electoral system is designed to keep them in power. By contrast, the opposition is fractured and lacks a charismatic leader. So why bother to do anything?

This defeatist attitude may be misplaced, especially since almost half of the electorate at the moment either doesn’t know or doesn’t divulge its political preferences. The various social groups that have been injured in one way or the other by the “renewal” measures of the Orbán government are numerous: civil servants, teachers, doctors, judges, university professors, artists, writers, and people receiving the minimum wage. One could go on and on. At the moment all these people are shaking in their boots, fearing for their jobs. They are afraid to go out to demonstrate. Surely, hidden cameras will reveal their identity. Fear has returned to the country.

But there might be a tipping point when all the grievances converge and serious opposition to the government breaks out. Who could have said on October 21, 1956 that in two days there would be an open rebellion against the Rákosi regime in Budapest? Or two weeks ago who would have thought that there would be street fights between young Turks and the police? Most likely nothing that drastic will happen in Hungary, but the possibility of a broad common front cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the opposition must be ready for such an occurrence. Moreover, the democratic parties have to come to some kind of an agreement concerning their attitudes toward “the accomplishments” of the Orbán government. Of course, I’m using the word “accomplishments” ironically.

What I mean is: can there be some kind of compromise between Fidesz and its democratic opposition? Because if not, says one school of thought on the subject, the present political division will only be perpetuated. Others are convinced that there is no way any kind of compromise is possible: Orbán’s autocratic rule cannot be “balanced” by those who believe in liberal democracy. Oil and water don’t mix.

Let me go back a bit to history and linguistics. I use the word “compromise” for “kiegyezés.” Indeed, when we talk about the historical “kiegyezés” of 1867 between Austria and Hungary in English we use the word “compromise.” The Compromise of 1867. However, the German word for the same event is “Ausgleich,” which means not so much compromise as “settlement.” Austria and Hungary settled their differences. So, according to a number of politicians, including Gordon Bajnai, the opposition must sit down with the politicians of Fidesz and settle their differences.

A settlement in the offing? / calgaryfoodpolicy.blogspot.com

A settlement in the offing? 

Bajnai, in an interview with Die Zeitenvisages an electoral outcome in 2014 in which the united opposition achieves a modest victory which “would be an opportunity for a kind of national agreement for fair negotiations.” He wants “to cross party lines to reach a consensus” and has no intention of turning everything back to the pre-Orbán period. After watching Viktor Orbán up close and personal ever since 1998, I would like to see just one occasion when he was ready to come to a “national agreement.” We all remember when in 2002 Péter Medgyessy, then apparently on the advice of Ferenc Gyurcsány, tried to extend a hand to Viktor Orbán. He called this approach “filling the trenches” or “burying the hatchet” in English. He got nowhere. He was only rebuffed.

The latest attempt at “appeasement” (at least this is what I call it) on the part of Gordon Bajnai is asking for forgiveness for the referendum of 2004 when the Fidesz-supported idea of giving citizenship to Hungarian nationals living in the neighboring countries was rejected with the active support of the government parties. Since then the Orbán government’s super-majority voted for citizenship, which includes voting rights. Bajnai feels that this right cannot be revoked. Thus, the citizens of Hungary must live with perhaps a million extra votes of people who have no real stake in the outcome of the election and don’t have to bear its consequences. That is a very large number when only about four million people vote at national elections.

Bajnai, in the hope of extra votes from the other side, is giving in on many other issues as well. For example, he made special mention of the Day of Unity (in other words, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon) where he talked about three-fourths of the territories and two-thirds of its population Hungary lost. Of course, these numbers are correct, but failing to point out that the majority of this two-thirds were not Hungarians was a mistake. Talking about Trianon as a “tragedy” is again only adding oil to fire. He is hoping to come to an understanding on “the trauma of the Soviet occupation” and “the trauma of the Holocaust.” No wonder that the headline in HVG declared: “Bajnai compared Trianon to the Holocaust.” I don’t think that the loss of territories and the loss of lives can cause the same trauma. The last sentence of Bajnai’s communiqué stated that “we will have to close the period that meant the silence and abuse of Trianon.” That to me means that he promises the Hungarian nationalists that Trianon will remain a topic of debate. Keeping Trianon alive will also stoke the self-pity that is so injurious to the Hungarian psyche and that should be discouraged.

But that’s not all. Gordon Bajnai said the following about anti-Semitism and the Orbán government in Berlin the other day. “There are many problems with the government but one cannot claim that it has anything to do with antisemitism and racism.” One doesn’t have to go that far in seeking “national consensus” or “settlement” with Viktor Orbán and his followers. After all, Orbán’s attitude towards both is far from unequivocal.

That is the Bajnai approach, which in my opinion is utterly mistaken. Devoted Orbán followers will not vote for the democratic opposition because Bajnai supports the voting rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries. It is also unlikely that a devoted supporter of Fidesz will be terribly impressed with  all that mea culpa on the issue of Trianon. But the voters of the democratic opposition may lose trust in him.

In the next few days I will outline some other ideas about what the opposition should do concerning the Orbán government and its supporters.

Hungarian nationals’ attacks on the LIBE draft report of Rui Tavares

Let’s hope that I will be able to tear you away from the historical discussion that has developed after my short note on the Hungarian situation in 1918-1919 and move on to the present.

I would like to turn to the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary. It is a 30-page document that shows a thorough understanding of every aspect of Hungarian politics, relating specifically to constitutional issues, and recommends tough sanctions. But it is only a draft proposal to which amendments can be attached. The members of LIBE–fairly equally divided between the right and the left–will have to vote on the amendments one by one.

The proposed amendments were made public the other day: a total of 551 amendments taking up 134 pages. That is 134 pages of amendments to a 30-page document.  About two weeks ago I read somewhere that the Fidesz delegation itself submitted 200 amendments. The members of the Fidesz delegation were assisted by two other Hungarian members of the European People’s Party, Edit Bauer of Slovakia and Csaba Sógor of Romania. These two were almost as busy as Kinga Gál (Fidesz), who submitted at least 75 amendments. Another Fidesz MEP, Lívia Járóka, an ethnic Roma, was also active. László Surján and Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz also submitted minor amendments. I find it interesting that Hungarian nationals like Bauer or Sógor who don’t live in Hungary are so heavily involved with Hungarian domestic policies. I might add that Kinga Gál was born in Cluj/Kolozsvár, Romania.

The two most active EPP members, Kinga Gál and Edit Bauer / www.maszol.ro

The two most active EPP members, Kinga Gál and Edit Bauer / www.maszol.ro

The Hungarian group was greatly aided by Frank Engel, EPP MEP from Luxembourg, who at times was just as radical in his opposition to certain recommendations as were the Hungarian defenders of the Orbán government. Jean-Pierre Audy (France EPP) was also fairly active.

On the other side (the greens, the left front, the socialists, and the liberals) few people seemed to find fault with the draft document. Their amendments were minor and often aimed at clarifying or strengthening Tavares’s arguments. If the committee follows the suggestions of the Gál-Bauer-Sógor-Engel group, however, not much would remain of the original recommendations.

Here are a few examples. Frank Engel would delete recommendation 58 of the Tavares report, which reads:

Considers that the European Council cannot remain inactive in cases where one of the Member States is faced with changes that may negatively affect the rule of law in that country and therefore the rule of law in the European Union at large, in particular when mutual trust in the legal system and judicial cooperation may be put at risk.

Edit Bauer is perhaps the most radical because she would eliminate almost all the recommendations to the Hungarian Authorities. Here is one of the key sets of recommendations (section 61) of the LIBE draft report that the Fidesz supporters find especially odious. It’s long but nonetheless worth quoting in full.

Urges the Hungarian authorities to implement the following recommendations without any further delay, with a view to fully restoring 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 strong safeguards for fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, media and religion 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 fully apply the recommendations of the Venice Commission and, in particular, to revise the list of policy areas requiring a qualified majority in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and with a view to ensuring future meaningful  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 the participation of the wider public in the legislative procedure;

 On checks and balances:

–        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, through full judicial review, that the Fundamental Law always remains the supreme law of the land;

–        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 modifications of the Fundamental Law as well as the abolition of two decades of constitutional case-law;

 –        to restore the case-law of the Constitutional Court issued before the entry into force of the Fundamental Law, in particular in the field of fundamental rights;

–        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 restore and 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, as well as the safeguards on the independence of the Constitutional Court, are enshrined in the Fundamental Law;

–        to promptly and correctly implement the above-mentioned 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;

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 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 European Court of Human Rights-related 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:

–        to take positive action to ensure that the fundamental rights of all persons, including persons belonging to minorities, are respected;

On the freedom of religion and the 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 above-mentioned Decision 6/2013 of the Constitutional Court;

Very often Edit Bauer, Frank Engel, Csaba Sógor, and Kinga Gál want to delete exactly the same passages from the draft report. Since I suspect that these four worked together, the repetitions are not the results of an oversight. Rather they most likely want to emphasize four times over how unacceptable these recommendations are. Engel, for example, wants to get rid of  “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, through full judicial review, that the Fundamental Law always remains the supreme law of the land.” He also wants to get rid of the passage “to restore the case-law of the Constitutional Court issued before the entry into force of the Fundamental Law, in particular in the field of fundamental rights.”  Edith Bauer wants to remove the passage “to implement the remaining recommendations laid down in the Venice Commission’s opinion … on the cardinal acts on the judiciary that were amended following the adoption of Opinion CDL-AD(2012)001.”

These amendments will be discussed in the LIBE Committee on Thursday, after which Tavares will try to come up with a compromise text. Then, most likely on the 19th, the members of the committee will vote. The revised report will come before the plenary session of the full European Parliament, probably in July.