Q & A on Hungary and the Sargentini Report ahead of today’s EP debate

Today in Strasbourg, the European Parliament convenes in plenary to debate something called the Sargentini Report on issues in Hungary. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s a short roundup of a few things you should know.

What exactly is the so-called Sargentini Report?

The Sargentini Report, officially known as the “report on a proposal calling on the Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded,” is a document prepared and proposed by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs under the leadership of Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini. The authors aim to set in motion the infamous Article 7 (1) procedure, the “nuclear” option, that could strip a member state of its voting rights in European institutions.

In its substance, the report regurgitates a laundry list of all the criticisms that Europe’s liberals have thrown at the Orbán Governments since 2010, including many that Hungary has already resolved with the Commission or other European institutions and more than a few that simply do not fall under the authority of the European Union.

What makes this whole thing so extraordinary?

Here’s the thing. The EU has never seen this before. While the European Commission decided several months ago to launch an Article 7 (1) procedure against Poland, the fact that it’s the European Parliament pushing it this time makes the whole Sargentini Report, well, unorthodox, particularly because it’s not the European Parliament’s job and because we’ve already been down this road with the Commission and the Commission decided not to pursue it.

Under the EU agreements, the European Commission acts as the sole “Guardian of the Treaties.” Only the Commission has the authority to review a member state’s legislation and launch infringement proceedings. It’s fair to say that Hungary has had some animated conversations with the Commission over the last few years on particular laws, but ultimately, we were able to resolve all issues, and the Commission did not see a cause for pursuing Article 7.

The European Parliament and the LIBE Committee, as it is known, are trying to assert authorities that do not belong to the EP. And the LIBE Committee, a political body, has a political agenda with this effort, which was more than apparent in the way MEP Sargentini drafted the report, refusing to involve Hungarian authorities and interviewing only a handful of Soros-funded NGOs from Hungary’s flourishing NGO ecosystem comprising more than 60 thousand organizations.

We’ve got a lengthy report and on Tuesday a big debate. This must be based on a list of new concerns, right?

No, it’s not. On the contrary. Most of the issues listed are, as I wrote last week, ancient history. As much as we expected that a proposal to take such serious measures would be based on serious analysis, sound legal reasoning and impartiality, it turns out to be a collection of already closed cases. What’s worse, some of the issues raised in the report clearly don’t fall under the authority of the European Union. 

How can the European Parliament meddle in topics that clearly fall under the competence of national governments?

Here’s a case where those who wish to see a deepening of Europe and strong centralization attempt to grab power that does not belong to the European institutions. The language of the Sargentini Report is telling. Under the supposed objective of evaluating whether Hungary has undermined basic European values, the report includes passages on “patriarchal stereotypes”, the contents of school textbooks, definitions of family, minimum pension rates and “unwelcoming atmosphere”. An objective reader would be right to wonder why those topics have anything to do with the business of the European Parliament and the stated objective of this report. 

What’s next?           

It’s only a matter of hours until the EP’s Strasbourg plenary kicks off. The show trial against Hungary begins shortly, and we hope that, contrary to reports last week, we won’t see any manipulation of the voting rules. In any case, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will be there to address the European Parliament and represent the interests of the Hungarian people. Ultimately, what really matters is what happens next May at the European Parliamentary elections.