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Dec 11, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Article 7 and ‘trampling on the rules’

Seems I touched a nerve.

Yesterday, I attended a hearing in Brussels about Hungary. It was number eleven. Eleven hearings in the EU concerning Hungary and European values. The Article 7 procedure alone has been dragging on for more than 15 months with no progress. As part of the delegation representing Hungary – led by Minister of Justice Judit Varga and Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics – at yesterday’s General Affairs Council, I posted a few tweets about the proceedings.

I “crossed the line,” they said. We “trample on the rules of the EU.”

The not-free-but-free Hungarian press jumped on the story, and so did more than a few international media. How dare that I call a GAC hearing ridiculous. Well, a few things:

Anti-Semitism. Yes, the #SorosOrchestra is a real thing, and no, it’s not anti-Semitic to say so. George Soros himself has said openly that he’s working in direct opposition to the Orbán Government. He meets regularly with left-liberal MEPs and certain members of the European Commission. He funds the NGOs that are briefing these members and officials and publishing so-called “independent” reports on press freedom in Hungary. And for some curious reason, left-liberal governments and – sadly – some in the EU institutions take the reports coming from Soros-affiliated organizations as reliable, unbiased and expert benchmarks. Stop pretending that Soros is not a political actor and that he doesn’t have a network of liberal politicians and unelected NGOs pushing his agenda. Pretending the #SorosOrchestra does not exist is pure folly.

Lecture to me some more about Rules. We’ve reached a low point in parts of Brussels where the rules apply to some but not others. Following the General Affairs Council meeting in September, a hearing that also discussed the Article 7 procedure against Hungary and where Minister Judit Varga was also present, someone leaked the minutes of the hearing, redacting the Hungarian remarks. That was supposed to be a closed-door hearing. Outrage from the Finnish Presidency? Media storm? Not so much.

The Finnish Presidency slipped this whole thing onto the agenda for yesterday’s GAC meeting without first consulting with us. That’s a no-no and doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and a feeling of mutual respect. By the time we learned of it – when the draft agenda was circulated – we were faced with a fait accompli.

There’s more. The member states had agreed that the European Parliament – the EP is the one that initiated this Article 7 procedure based on the Sargentini Report – would have a single opportunity to present its reasoned proposal during an informal meeting organized by the Presidency where reps of Member States are invited. That already happened, months ago under the Austrian Presidency of the Council.

Ignoring that agreement, the Finnish Presidency – despite reservations from a number of Member States expressed in COREPER – proceeded to organize an informal breakfast meeting to brief members of the Council. It wasn’t an open meeting. According to our information, no elected MEPs were present, only the EP’s rapporteur.

Again, if the Finnish Presidency and Foreign Minister of Luxembourg and all the others up in arms about my casting a little sunlight on this political trial were really concerned about rules and respect among member states, well, that’s not the way to go about it.

If you doubt this is a political witch hunt, look again. By my count, 11 member states raised questions or concerns about rule of law in Hungary at yesterday’s hearing. Ten of those governments – or the foreign ministries of those governments – are run by liberals and leftists. This is not about rule of law and process and values. It’s about politics.

Enough already. Really, how many more hearings? As Minister Varga noted on Twitter yesterday, “#Art7 is on for more than 15 months in the #eucouncil now; it leads us nowhere, only raises mistrust among Member States.” It’s time to move forward. But several at the hearing yesterday, including one of the Commissioners, made conspicuous remarks about an on-going process, signaling that they have no intention of bringing this to an end.

Finally, here’s a question, one reflected, it seems, in Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s proposal for a broader review process: If we’re worried about rule of law, why don’t we put questions to all Member States to be able to compare and benchmark?

Oh, and one more thing: Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @zoltanspox.

Photo: eduspot.com