Whip number 7

On 25 July, the European Commission once again took Hungary to the Court of Justice of the European Union. A procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty was also launched. Both cases concern amendments to Hungarian law on illegal immigration. A month earlier, on 27 June, the CJEU spokesperson issued a statement in which he outlined that the changes introduced to the National Court Register and the Supreme Court under the laws reforming the judicial system in Poland were non-compliant with the EU law and violated EU values. The final verdict in this case is due to be announced in September.

Ever since, first in Hungary and then in Poland, the governments have been taken over by political parties that go beyond the mainstream of European politics and are more assertive towards Brussels, the European Union as an institution has been trying to exert pressure on both these countries. Or even directly demand the return to politics complaint with the expectations of the European Commission. One of Budapest’s most serious infractions is its migration policy. Warsaw, in turn, is disobedient in relation to the reform of Polish courts. The procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty is a whip used against these two wayward states.

The Article 7 procedure of the Treaty on European Union for protecting EU values was introduced in 1997 under the Treaty of Amsterdam. The provision contains two procedures: preventive, if there is a risk of a breach of EU values, and sanctions if such a breach has already occurred. Sanctions may lead to the suspension of the rights of the particular state at meetings of the Council of Europe and the European Council.

In the first case, a qualified majority of four-fifths of the Member States is sufficient to start the preventive procedure. The second case requires unanimity among the EU heads of state or government. The state concerned does not vote.

In 2015, on the “invitation” of Angela Merkel, thousands of migrants from Asia and North Africa began to arrive in Europe, and their numbers soon swelled to over a million. The new migration routes led mainly through Spain, Italy and the Balkan Peninsula. The countries located in the south of Europe were unable to deal with this problem of mass migration. The main migration route ran through Hungary. Almost 380,000 migrants have passed through this small country. The Hungarian authorities, disagreeing with the pro-immigrant policy of Berlin and Brussels (the quota system), started to make it more difficult for migrants to travel through the territory of their country, introducing a state of emergency. In April 2017, a wall/fence, measuring 155 km, was erected on the border with Serbia in order to prevent illegal border crossings. These actions were also accompanied by changes to Hungarian legislation and the constitution.

Non-governmental organisations, including those associated in the international Open Society Foundation, became very involved in helping migrants reach Europe. The founder and main sponsor of OSF is George Soros – a Hungarian-born financier and one of the richest people in the world. That is why the anti-immigrant regulations are referred to as the “STOP Soros” laws. Soros himself, with his work focused on building an open society that opposes the pro-national policy of Viktor Orbán’s government, has earned himself the title of the Prime Minister’s personal enemy. Orbán has succeeded in Soros’s Central European University (which is considered as the “forge of talents” for Soros’s foundation) moving its headquarters from Budapest to Vienna.

The Hungarian parliament passed the “STOP Soros” law on 20 June 2018. The regulations provide for financial penalties and prison sentences for individuals and organisations that help illegal immigrants who do not have the right to apply for asylum in Hungary. One of the laws imposes a 25% tax on the funds used to help immigrants. Those who do not comply with the regulations may be faced with a prison sentence of up to one year. The second law gives the Minister of Interior the right to ban organisations that encourage illegal immigration or threaten national security. The Parliament has also adopted a constitutional amendment prohibiting “foreign populations” from settling in Hungary if they do not have the necessary permits. Even before the final adoption of the package, the Venice Commission had appealed to the Hungarian Parliament for it to refrain from adopting these legal solutions.

The European Commission has decided to refer Hungary to the European Court of Justice. This action is linked to regulations which criminalise activities supporting asylum and residence applications and restrict the right to apply for asylum. – Natasha Bertaud, deputy chief spokesperson for the European Commission, told the media – The Commission has also initiated a procedure linked to an infringement of EU laws because of the non-delivery of food to people waiting to return to their countries, who are detained in transit zones on the border with Serbia.

The mentioned regulations prevent the provision of assistance to illegal immigrants inside an eight-kilometre strip along the national border. As a result, NGOs, mainly those financed by Soros’ foundations, are unable to deliver food or any other aid to people inside the transit zones.

However, the authorities in Budapest do not intend to bend under pressure exerted by the European Commission, boasting strong public support for their policies. – The Hungarian government is defending anti-immigration regulations known as the “STOP Soros” laws and the associated constitutional amendment, because they reflect the will of Hungarians – said the government spokesman Istvan Hollik – In the referendum of 2016 on the mandatory settlement of persons other than Hungarian citizens in Hungary, in the parliamentary elections in 2018, and in the elections to the European Parliament in May this year, Hungarians made it clear that they reject immigration and want to protect European Christian culture; therefore, they expect the Hungarian government to reflect their will – said Hollik.

The government spokesman made a reference to the results of the referendum of 2 October 2016, in which Hungarians were asked for their agreement to migrants settling in their country according to the quotas allocated by the European Union without the consent of the national parliament. Although the results of the referendum were not binding, as the turnout did not exceed 50 per cent of those entitled to vote (approx. 42 per cent of Hungarian voted), almost 98 per cent of voters said NO.

In the parliamentary elections held in April last year, the government coalition of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) won 133 seats in a 199-seat parliament, i.e. exactly the same number as that of the constitutional majority. This was the third consecutive victory (fourth in history) of Viktor Orbán’s party. The opposition parties recorded a defeat. The far-right Jobbik won 26 seats, and the left-wing coalition of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Together party won a total of only 20 seats in parliament. The turnout exceeded the record-breaking 63 per cent of those entitled to vote.

The Fidesz-KDNP coalition confirmed its supremacy on the Hungarian political scene in this year’s May elections to the European Parliament, by winning 13 out of 21 seats allocated to Hungary. More than 52 per cent of voters chose the government coalition. The Democratic Coalition of the former socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány won only 4 seats (16.3% of the vote), and the liberals of the Momentum Movement won second place in the European Parliament (9.9%).

Istvan Hollik underlined that the “STOP Soros” laws and the constitutional amendment were in line with the Geneva Conventions, the Schengen Agreement and the Dublin Convention, and that the Hungarian government was ready to defend its position in the pending trial.

Hungarian NGOs have an entirely different opinion about “STOP Soros”. In an interview for the Polish portal ngo.pl, Nora Koves from the Eötvös Károly Policy Institute described these legislative solutions as a whip to be used against NGOs – The actual aim of these regulations is to silence organisations that criticise the government – said the human rights expert. In her opinion, the new regulations serve to control non-governmental organisations, because they all must first obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior, which in itself is a long procedure, and then pay a 25 per cent tax on all the money received from abroad in order to carry out their activities related to migrants. – And in practice, such organisations do not have any other income. – Nora Koves explains. Such high taxation is intended to either bankrupt the organisation or prevent it from operating freely. – This is a political game. It is in the nature of a regime to destroy NGOs, because they have an independent voice. A great majority of NGOs monitor the actions of the government, as this is what their task is. As we know, any authoritarian regime dislikes being monitored. That is why every regime of this kind destroys NGOs. – continues the expert.

The pressure currently exerted by Brussels on Budapest is yet “another episode” in a very long series on the Hungarian-EU struggle. The first serious disputes took place during the period of the so-called “first Orbán government” in 1998–2002, and after his return to power as a result of Fidesz’s victorious elections in 2010, which I described in the piece “Chess and poker”, to be found on this website.[i]

The “STOP Soros” package was the cause of an EU intervention once before. Last September, the European Parliament, by a two-thirds majority, requested the Council to declare that Hungary has violated EU values by introducing legislation prohibiting the provision of assistance to migrants. The European Parliament thus initiated against Hungary the procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union. Moreover, the resolution highlights twelve other issues that MEPs consider to be questionable in the light of the rule of law.

In response to the vote, Viktor Orbán said that the reasoning behind the European Parliament’s decision was the desire of Germany and France to deprive the nation states of control over the Union’s external borders and instead entrust it to EU officials who “will let migrants pass”.

At the September meeting of the Council of the European Union, Finland’s Presidency did not foresee the agenda to include discussions on the rule of law in Poland. This is not at all due to some kind of a concessionary tariff that was suddenly granted to Poland by the EU. The reason is of a technical nature. The CJEU’s judgment against Poland concerning the National Council of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court is to be issued only in September, so there wouldn’t be enough time for its analysis. Also at this sitting, Hungary is scheduled to be heard precisely in connection with the initiated Article 7 procedure.

The only consolation for these two nations is that Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, who in recent years has been particularly keen to “track down infringements in the rule of law” in Poland and Hungary, will not retain his position. However, this is little consolation because the balance of power and interests in the European Union has not changed fundamentally since the last parliamentary elections.







Autor jest człowiekiem wielu zawodów, konserwatystą, miłośnikiem historii XX wieku, publikuje na portalu wrodzinie.pl