The EU’s Civil Liberties Committee has criticised the EU Council over its perceived failure to act to protect EU values in Hungary.
MEPs on the committee expressed serious concerns over the Council’s failure to timetable a reading of the European Parliament’s September 2018 proposal to hold a comprehensive discussion on whether Hungary is in breach of the EU’s fundamental values. They noted that Parliament has now been raising breaches of fundamental rights and issues of governance and the rule of law in Hungary for nearly 10 years to little avail; and that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has presided over a range of troubling events.
Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, said: “Unfortunately, the situation has not improved. The concerns recently raised have not been addressed and new reasons for concern have emerged. First, you are aware that in February the Hungarian Government launched a campaign with billboards, full-fetched newspaper advertisements and a letter from the [Hungarian] Prime Minister addressed to all Hungarian citizens targeting the European institutions, in particular the Commission and its President Jean-Claude Juncker. This campaign still continued despite strong criticism from several sides. The truth is that there is no conspiracy and we believe Hungarian citizens deserve the facts, and all the facts. As regards civil society, which is the very fabric of democratic societies and therefore is an essential element of every Member state of the European Union, I also regret to say that the situation is not improving at all.”
The Committee highlighted a number of recent problematic incidents in Hungary, including:
- Orbán’s sustained campaign against the EU, focusing on President Juncker;
- The “Stop Soros” law criminalising helping illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, which the Commission intends to refer to the European Court of Justice if no action is taken by 24 March;
- The forcing out of the country of Central European University, which was founded by the Hungarian-American investor George Soros, a frequent target of the Hungarian government;
- The “slave law” introduced in late 2018, which increased the amount of overtime employers can demand from workers from 250 hours a year to 400, with payment potentially delayed for up to three years; and
- The Hungarian government’s stoking nationalist sentiments and promoting fear of migrants and refugees among citizens.
MEPs stated that issues in Hungary regarding judicial independence, the rule of law and freedom of expression were also ongoing causes for concern.