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Nov 13, 2020 - József Szájer

Rule of law should apply equally to all EU institutions, too!

Double standards are the worst enemy of the rule of law, and neither the EU nor the European Parliament are exempt from the rule of law.

 

Being a member of the Union and participating in the great project of peaceful rapprochement of European nations provides a unique opportunity in Hungary’s history to strengthen our own identity, our nation, our intellectual and material resources, and our national security for a successful recovery in the 21st century.

We know that Europe cannot be strong without strong nation states. It’s good for us when Europe has an interest in our success. And our interest also lies in the success of such a Europe. For us, the EU means sticking to a strict framework. That is why we care where it is headed.

The rule of law topic has been on our agenda continually since the fall of communism. And rule of law has also been on the EU’s agenda, perhaps more nowadays than before.

This would be fine if the rule of law were applied to the EU itself as strictly as it is to Member States. According to its core meaning, the rule of law needs to be applied to all institutions consistently. No EU body exercising any authority can claim an exception to this. That is how the principles of fundamental rights and the rule of law were included in the legislation of the European Union — to protect citizens against Community institutions and authoritarian legislation.

This is what the Charter of Fundamental Rights is all about. Since the European Union is not a state, but a special, treaty-based organization, it has not yet been capable of fully meeting the conditions of democracy or the Rule of law; and since important basic conditions are missing, in a certain respect, it is never going to be able to meet them entirely. The most important and strongest democratic component of the Union that pertains to legitimacy, the cornerstone of Europe’s democracy and its ultimate guarantee, remains today the free election of Member States’ legislative assemblies, following the majority principle. The European Parliament, as a quasi-representative institution, has not been able to counterbalance the sui generis democratic deficit of the Union and the weakness in democratic legitimacy within the community — even decades after its creation.

Meanwhile, the common institutions of the Union have actively resisted being held accountable to the rule of law. In recent years, while criticizing Member States for rule of law violations, they ruled out even the weakest efforts to subject them to external oversight.

They disregarded guarantees. They aggressively transgressed the limitations set forth by the principle of subsidiarity and they continued to treat and shape measures aimed at reducing the Union’s democratic deficit in ways that would avoid threatening their own powers in any way.

The right of national parliaments to have their say in EU legislation, as stated in the Treaty of Lisbon, has been a spectacular failure, as well as any citizens’ initiative, which needs a minimum of one million signatures. For the last decade, there have been no successful examples of either of these. EU institutions simply shook off the initiatives they did not like, especially those aimed at curtailing their powers.

Now, the European Parliament is adapting the rules on vote-counting according to its interests by distorting the interpretation of the founding Treaties and using guidelines enacted by its internal legal service, which itself holds an obscure legal status.This happened both in the case of the Sargentini report and when a Polish MEP was removed from his post as EP Vice-President for not being favored by the European mainstream. Furthermore, the European Parliament adopted the Sargentini report on Hungary, even though it openly admitted many elements had no legal basis under EU law.

The latest example of this is that due to the COVID-19 crisis, the EP Bureau introduced a remote electronic voting system in contradiction of its own Rule of Procedure, which by default explicitly requires the presence of Members. Based on this serious infringement, one might question the validity of all votes cast by the Parliament since March 2020. The Parliament’s Rules of Procedure can be changed or amended only by the absolute majority of members, not by any partial body nor by the President of the Parliament.

The various written materials, proposals, and recommendations on rule of law mechanisms discussed in detail over the past decade, and particularly in recent months, under the banner of rule of law-conditionality hardly ever addressed the functioning of the EU bodies themselves. They do not care about the rule of law when it comes to their own activities because the goal is to discipline Member States and increase EU competencies to the detriment of Member States. In other words, they are thinly veiled attempts to exercise political and financial pressure and blunt federalist assumptions.

The mere appearance and imitation of principles, fairness and impartiality should not let us be deceived! Clearly demarcated, institutional, ideological, political, selfish, and special interests of certain Member States have already marked the course along which punitive, disciplinary proceedings are underway or to be initiated against Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechia...

Meanwhile, they quietly overlooked Western examples of clear violations, with a purposeful bias that speaks for itself: the fraudulent violation of the Austrian presidential election, the police crackdown against the yellow-vest protestors in France, the fatal beating of a Slovak citizen by Belgian police. Clearly, the application of a double standard is the worst enemy of the rule of law; it is also the enemy of cooperation and equality. It is toxic. It undermines the confidence of Member States and of the citizens of the European Union.

Rule of law should apply to both EU institutions and Member States. No double standards. Parliament is not exempt, either! Article 2 of the Treaty applies to the entire EU. It is time to get things straight. Parliament should first get its own house in order before bringing down the hammer on others.