30/01/2012 The European Commission sanctions Orban’s government

Its decision has been highly anticipated. On Tuesday 16 January the European Commission finally sent a warning to Viktor Orban’s government, as he has included text in the new constitution that gives him power over the central bank and judges, which is in violation of community law. First of all Brussels will implement financial sanctions against an increased budget that has been deemed excessive. The conservative Hungarian prime minister must go to the European Parliament on Wednesday to defend his position and that of his government. On 24 January he will meet José Manuel Barroso.

A month to react

‘We hope that the Hungarian authorities we make the necessary changes to as to ensure that they respect European Union law. However this has not been the case, and we have decided to start offense proceedings.’ This is what José Manuel Barroso stated on Tuesday, when announcing sanctions against Hungary.

Three advisory letters to order the Hungarian government to modify its reforms regarding the central bank, the statute of judges and Hungarian authority in protecting information will shortly be sent out. Brussels will send these warnings in the hope that the Hungarian government will react. José Manuel Barroso and Viktor Orban will meet on 24 January in Brussels.

The Hungarian government has a month to react, and then it risks being brought before the European Union’s Court of justice.

Since the new Hungarian constitution came into force, everyone has looked to the European Union, which has remained reserved and quite timid on the issue.

The European Parliament is being called on to take a position

The new constitution, which was easily passed through the Hungarian Parliament, came into force on  1 January 2012. Due to a series of nationalist laws related to politics, religion and also the economy and finance, the new text has been widely criticised, by the opposition as well as the international community. Several thousand protesters have marched against the measures that many deem discriminatory.

In addition to the controversy on the definition of marriage, the lack of reference to the freedom of the press as an individual right, the independence of the central bank and the authority to supervise the protection of information are all threatened.

In the plenary session in Strasbourg, the Euro-deputies will debate on Wednesday, from 15h-19h, the European Commission’s response and the position of the European Parliament. As the European deputies that are members of the EPP group support Orban’s government, discussions look to be tricky.

Austria’s position

In 2000 14 member states decided to diplomatically isolate Austria and its chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, if the populist from the extreme right Jörg Haider was to participate in government. Austria was then not allowed to participate in the European Council. For some people this symbolic sanctioning by the EU served little purpose. For other people, it was positive, as ‘without sanctions Schüssel would never have been able to exclude Haider from politics.’

Member states then created a charter on common EU values after the Austrian sanctions were lifted. But this charter does not have much power when faced with the possible rise of the extreme right in a country.

According to one Euro-deputy, if Orban’s Hungary asked to join Europe today it would be rejected, as it does not have all the required elements of a democracy. ‘Would a candidate country applying this type of law have a chance of joining the European Union?’ asked Rui Tavares during a debate in the European parliament last week.

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