Minister Gulyás responds to Finnish Presidency: Hey, the rules work both ways or not at all

Some weren't happy when I decided to cast a little sunlight – via Twitter – on the way the Council, under the Finnish presidency, conducts these Article 7 hearings.

As I wrote on the blog earlier this week, it seems I touched a nerve when I decided to cast a little sunlight – via Twitter – on the way the Council, under the Finnish presidency, conducts these Article 7 hearings. Finnish Minister of European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen, representing the Finnish presidency, got a little upset, saying it was “trampling” over the rules on confidentiality of meetings and demanded a written explanation.

I referred her to my Twitter feed. But that wasn’t good enough, apparently.

Today, Gergely Gulyás, the minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, responded in an official letter addressed to Minister Tuppurainen (Finland now holds the rotating presidency of the Council).

“It is disturbing when European institutions breach, circumvent or bend procedural rules,” Minister Gulyás said in his response, listing several recent offences on the part of the Council under the Finnish presidency.

Specifically, he mentions the release to the public of a formal, internal report on the September 16 General Affairs Council hearing of Hungary and the Article 7 procedure. It was an internal document related to a closed hearing, and the General Secretariat failed to consult with Hungary before releasing it. The individual who received access to the report then published it on the internet.

Gulyás also reminded Tuppurainen of the fact that there is an ongoing annulment procedure against the EP resolution that triggered Article 7 against Hungary in the first place due to an irregular counting of votes, thus calling into question the very legality of the continued hearings.

The PM’s office head added that the Presidency of the Council itself demonstrated a complete lack of neutrality when it placed a second hearing on the draft agenda of the General Affairs Council, the hearing that took place this week. He pointed out that there was zero respect paid to the actual scope of the resolution against Hungary during the hearings, as various other issues – unrelated to the EP resolution – were continuously raised.

“As far as publicity is concerned,” the minister wrote, “I would like to stress that no Member State can be held accountable for the same conduct which is not unlawful when carried out by the General Secretariat of the Council.” The rules work both ways or not at all.

And in a genuine swipe, Gulyás also pointed out that the general lack of knowledge by other Member States of certain relevant facts during the Article 7 hearings against Hungary has been “disturbing and shocking.”

Equally “disturbing and shocking” was the continuous manner during the hearings in which “some Member States and institutions, contrary to the principle of sincere cooperation, echo the accusations of NGOs sponsored by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations that play an openly political role in domestic and European politics.” There has been, per the Hungarian government, a complete lack of any “genuine legal arguments.”

As to the persistent accusation that criticizing Soros’s influence is somehow anti-Semitic, the minister rejected this outright and called on all Member States to also reject such an interpretation. As I wrote on the blog earlier this week, the #SorosOrchestra is real, and there’s nothing anti-Semitic about saying so.

But, as Minister Gulyás said, we remain committed to EU procedures, including this Article 7 procedure, as long as they are “neutral and free from external influence.” He also noted, however, that Hungary reserves the right to utilize legal tools to “counter any tendentious or malicious practice” by the institutions of the EU.

Minister Tuppurainen fired back this afternoon on Twitter, calling the response insufficient and incomplete – saying nothing of the Council’s unfortunate disregard for the rules – and closed by saying something about the Council’s legal service.

Read the full text of the letter here. Stay tuned.