EP lawmakers overwhelmingly support resolution to strip Hungary of rotating presidency

EP lawmakers overwhelmingly support resolution to strip Hungary of rotating presidency
The non-binding resolution was adopted with the support of five major factions, with 442 votes in favour, 144 against and 33 abstentions. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest June 2, 2023

The European Parliament passed a resolution on June 1, condemning what it calls "deliberate and systematic efforts" to undermine EU values in Hungary, and expressing concern over Hungary taking over the bloc’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2024.

In a non-binding resolution adopted with the support of the five major factions with 442 votes in favour, 144 against and 33 abstentions, EU lawmakers called into question how Hungary would be able to credibly fulfill its role as president of the Council of the European Union next year.

According to the resolution, it is turning to the European Council to "find a proper solution as soon as possible or face appropriate measures" from the parliament.

In the six-month period, Hungary would chair the meetings, and set the agenda. There is growing concern that Viktor Orban's radical rightwing government, with a track record of breaching fundamental values and blocking key EU decisions, would be an impartial leader of the community, to say the least and use the presidency to push its own agenda.

Although the EP resolution legally has no binding force, it puts clearly pressure on the Council. In the history of the EU, there has been no precedent when a country was stripped of the rotating presidency, a right enshrined in EU treaties.

According to Politico, some EP members threatened to limit collaboration with a Hungarian presidency to the bare minimum or to give platforms to dissidents such as journalists or academics alongside Budapest officials at events.

From corruption to restrictions on academic freedom, judicial independence and insufficient parliamentary control of the government, the EP’s resolution lists deficiencies in two dozen points. It confirms earlier findings that the rule of law in Hungary has deteriorated significantly in recent years.

In the 2022 September resolution, Hungary was called a "hybrid regime of electoral autocracy" and the parliament urged the European Commission to refrain from approving RRF and Cohesion Funds to Hungary until Budapest "fully complied" with all recommendations and implemented judgments by the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights.

EU member states suspended €6.3bn in cohesion policy programmes for Hungary in December and set a roadmap to access these funds, including the implementation of reforms to improve judicial independence and tackle corruption. The EU has been withholding 5.8bn funding from the post-pandemic recovery fund and its credit leg, worth some €10bn, until Hungary meets the so-called 27 super milestones.

According to the resolution tabled by the centre-right, left and liberal groups in the EP, Hungary will only be able to access EU funds once it met all the conditions and proves the anti-corruption measures are working.

They called on the European Commission, which manages the EU budget, to find a way to ensure that EU funds reach citizens and businesses even if the government refuses to comply with the rule of law.

The text deals at length with measures in Hungary that violate pillars of the single market and put legitimate business interests at risk, such as the discriminatory practices and intimidation of authorities and companies with ties to the government to gain control of strategic sectors of the Hungarian industry.

A recent delegation by the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) found the situation worrisome during a three-day visit to Budapest last month.

"Companies are being subjected to raids and harassments by authorities to make it easier for the prime minister's inner circle to buy them up. The Hungarian government is using mafia methods to take over entire sectors",  German MEP Daniel Freund (Greens/European Free Alliance) told new site 444.hu in an interview, adding that the European Commission should impose further sanctions against Hungary.

MEPs also noted the Hungarian parliament adopted without proper parliamentary scrutiny and public consultation the judicial reform package demanded by the EU, which does not provide for a review of political appointments at the highest levels of the judiciary.

The text criticises the efficiency of the country’s new Integrity Authority, also part of the long list of criteria, saying the authority did not fully take into account all stakeholder contributions regarding the seriousness of systemic corruption over EU funds in Hungary.

They recalled that the 2022 budget was modified 95 times, completely bypassing the normal budgetary procedure and the role of the parliament, as the government has used emergency powers since the pandemic to rule by decrees. It has recently extended a state of danger in response to the war in Ukraine.

It notes the lack of transparency in adhering to calls by the EU that government officials and political appointees should step down from the boards of public interest trusts overseeing the operation of key universities.

The resolution notes that Hungarian legislation passed recently that legitimises open discrimination and poses a threat to the rights of LGBT people.

The EP also condemned the government’s anti-EU communication campaigns, which damage trust and aim to divert attention from the non-compliance of the government's commitments.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga played down the EP resolution, saying it has no binding force, and added that preparatory work for the Hungarian presidency is already in full swing.

"The European Parliament continued its pressure campaign against Hungary today, and the left-liberal majority is waging a fiercer anti-Hungarian campaign than ever before", she wrote on Facebook. 

Those who have previously attacked us for our migration and then child protection policy are now trying to stigmatise and punish Hungary for its pro-peace stance, she added.

Although Hungary’s pro-Russian stance in the war created a clear rift with Poland, a key ally of Budapest, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki joined in to condemn the EP resolution, saying that it violates European rules in their most important form, treaty rules.

"Destroying the entire way of managing the EU in this way is not only a road to nowhere, but it is a road to the abyss", he was quoted as saying by the Polish news agency PAP.