Hungary’s future in the EU in the balance

Debate on the situation in Hungary with the Prime Minister of Hungary

Hungary’s Victor Orban’s future hangs in the balance as the MEPs discuss whether to apply article 7 to this country. This article provides a mechanism for the EU to impose its core values on an errant country.

After Orban’s address on Tuesday, the MEPs are set to vote on Wednesday after the SOTEU, the State of the Union. This will be delivered by the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and will be on Newsbook.com.mt.

Various sources, ranging from the EPP, S&D and ALDE told Newsbook.com.mt that the vote on Hungary could go any which way. The EPP MEPs will, according to insiders, be meeting to discuss a unified way forward.

Orban has been slated for introducing laws which, arguably go counter to European values. MEPs have criticised Orban for infringing freedom of expression, of religion, of association and for weakening the constitutional system and the electoral system. He is also accused of undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Orban’s reply was to the European Parliament on Tuesday was unequivocal: the report by the Dutch MEP was an insult to the Hungarian nation. He said that the Hungarians are being unjustly censored for interpreting the European values in a conservative way.

Max Weber, potential Spitzenkandidat and chairman of the EPP group was not chary of criticism to Orban. He said that the EPP did not believe that NGOs should find it difficult to operate because they were critical of the government.


USEFUL INFORMATION

What is Article 7?

Article 7 is a mechanism for ensuring that the values of the European Union are upheld. Those values, as expressed in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union, are:

Respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. 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.

Article 7 details a so-called “preventive and monitoring mechanism” or “early-warning mechanism” for identifying a clear risk of serious breach of values by a member state. It also includes a more serious “sanctioning mechanism”. When a member state has seriously and persistently breached Article 2 values, this can be used against it.

Why does Article 7 exist?

Article 7 was first introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam (which came into force in 1999). At a time when the European Union was preparing for a significant wave of enlargement by bringing in eight former communist countries, the inclusion of Article 7 was simultaneously a gesture and a warning. The EU member states would be expected to live up to the values of the union. If they did not, there would be consequences.

It’s also said that Article 7 was introduced as a response to accusations that the EU had limited capacity to intervene when its core principles and values were violated by one of its member states – even though the EU required strict compliance to human rights before new states could accede to the EU.

The provisions of Article 7 were extended in the 2001 Treaty of Nice to cover situations in which a member state is considered to be close to breaching EU values. The switch to a more pre-emptive approach was born of concern about the results of the 1999 elections in Austria, which led to the so-called “Haider affair”. A far-right party, led by populist Jörg Haider, won sufficient votes in the election to enter coalition talks to form a government, which led Brussels to wonder if it would be a good idea to extend Article 7 to allow for intervention that might prevent breaches from occurring in the first place.

What does Article 7 do?

Article 7 establishes three procedures that are intended to safeguard the values of Article 2 of the treaty.

First is a procedure to declare the existence of a “clear risk of a serious breach” of the values referred to in

Article 2. The same procedure can be used to make recommendations to the recalcitrant member state on how to resolve the issue. It states that the Council of Ministers may determine whether a breach is in danger of occurring and issue recommendations (so long as four-fifths of its members agree – and after it has secured the consent of the European Parliament). The council will act on concerns presented by one-third of the member states, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission.

Second, it establishes a procedure to determine whether a “serious and persistent breach” of values has occurred. Unsurprisingly, this is a more rigorous procedure than the process of identifying whether there is a risk of a breach. The European Commission, or one-third of member states, acting together, can call on the European Council (heads of state or government) to declare that a breach has occurred – but the council must agree unanimously before issuing a ruling. The European Parliament must also consent.

Finally, if it is determined that a serious and persistent breach of Article 2 values has been made, sanctions can be adopted against the member state in question. The council, acting by qualified majority, can suspend certain rights. That can include suspending the member state’s voting rights in the council. That means the country would still be subject to EU rules but would be excluded from decision making.