Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacted to the Hungarian emergency law with a statement: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_20_567 Viktor Orban’s Fidesz had passed with a two-thirds majority in the parliament in Budapest on Monday, a law which among other things allows Prime Minister Viktor Orban to govern by decree for an unlimited period of time. In her communication on Tuesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen avoided going into the concrete developments in Hungary. She pointed out “It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values as set out in the Treaties”. However, she did not announce any concrete measures in view of the offensive dismantling of constitutional principles in one member state.
Daniel Freund, Green negotiator in the Budgetary Control Committee on the rule of law mechanism (1), commented:
“Ursula von der Leyen gives the impression that the crisis in Hungary can be solved with soapbox speeches. Yet: words alone will not impress Viktor Orban. What happened in Budapest on Monday is nothing more than a betrayal of the fundamental principles of the European Union. Nobody really doubts that Viktor Orban is trying to establish a dictatorship. The EU Commission must now finally take decisive action.”
“Ursula von der Leyen must recognise the gravity of the situation and act. Three measures should be taken immediately – also in a language that Viktor Orban understands. Payments of EU funds to the Hungarian government must be suspended until there is a parliament again that can monitor their distribution in Hungary. We also need a video link between European leaders, because the Hungarian model must not be copied. Finally, a party like Fidesz, which is fighting liberal democracy by all means, has no place in the Christian-Democrat party family. Ursula von der Leyen must now campaign for Fidesz to be expelled from her party!”
BACKGROUND (1): Rule of law mechanism
Daniel Freund is shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA Group on the “proposal for a regulation on the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States” https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52018PC0324
In addition to Daniel Freund in the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT), Alexandra Geese is shadow in the Committee on Budgets (BUDG). Terry Reintke is rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Home Affairs (LIBE). The European Commission’s 2018 proposal is based on demands from the European Parliament to defend the rule of law and fundamental European values better than is possible under Article 7 of the EU Treaty. A procedure under Article 7 TEU can lead to the withdrawal of the benefits of EU membership, i.e. the loss of voting rights in the Council and of EU funds. However, this requires the consent of all Member States except the one concerned in the Council, which hardly seems possible at present. The new proposal is intended to make financial sanctions possible even without this unrealistically high hurdle, before the child has fallen into the well.
BACKGROUND 2: Petition Defend our democracy in the Corona crisis!
Together with members of all pro-European groups in the European Parliament and also with members of the German Bundestag and civil society, I launched a petition on Monday calling on the EU Commission to take immediate action in view of the situation in Hungary. After less than 24 hours the petition has already been supported by more than 7,600 signatories.
BACKGROUND 3: Commission’s possibilities against Orban’s emergency law
The EU already has the possibility to refuse to pay certain EU funds to individual Member States that do not respect the rule of law. Specifically, it can do so in the case of European structural and investment funds (ESI funds), which together account for over half of all EU funds. The Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) currently governs the management of ESI funds. Article 142(a) of the regulation provides that payments by the funds may be suspended if “there is a serious deficiency in the effective functioning of the management and control system of the operational programme, which has put at risk the Union contribution to the operational programme and for which corrective measures have not been taken”. A country where fundamental principles of the rule of law are disregarded and, as in the case of Hungary, the Parliament is de facto suspended, cannot establish effective management and control systems.
Regulation with common provisions: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32013R1303&from=EN