This is how ‘rule of law’ became a weapon against countries that oppose migration

It’s been little more than five years since the worst days of the migration crisis, but we have already seen one of the EU’s most fundamental values, the rule of law, turned against Member States that hold a different view on migration. Here’s where we are now and how it all went down.

On Monday, the permanent representatives of Hungary and Poland to the European Union announced that, in the interest of their countries, they will exercise a political veto over the provisions in the EU’s upcoming 2021-2027 budget and the Next Generation coronavirus emergency fund, which would effectively tie funding from the common pool to an ambiguous set of “rule of law” criteria.

In an official statement yesterday morning, Prime Minister Orbán further elaborated on the reasons why Hungary decided to veto the EU’s legislative package and wrote that “in Brussels today, they only view countries that let migrants in as those governed by the rule of law.” This may sound self-explanatory to those who have been following the debate about migration and rule of law between Hungary (and Poland) and the European Union since the onset of the 2015 migration crisis; but for those unfamiliar with the situation, here's a rundown of events that have brought us to the point where the principle of rule of law has become a political weapon against EU Member States that oppose migration.

May 13, 2015 — The European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker at the time, published its updated migration strategy, aimed at alleviating the migration burden on southern EU Member States. This is the first time that the idea of a mandatory resettlement quota makes an appearance.

End of summer 2015 — More than 600,000 migrants march through Hungary illegally, in a wave that PM Orbán rightfully calls “an invasion.”

September 22, 2015 — Despite Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Romania voting against the policy, the Council of the EU decides to distribute an additional 120,000 migrants among Member States.

September 26, 2015 — Billionaire financier George Soros publishes his six-point plan for “rebuilding the asylum system.” Among other suggestions, Soros proposes that the EU should “accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future,” take up joint loans, give up the right of nation states to border protection and establish “safe channels” for migration. (Read more in this blog post from 2017.)

March 7, 2016 — Joined by other heads of state and government, Prime Minister Orbán exercises a veto over the European Commission’s plan to take in masses of immigrants from Turkey in an uncontrolled, unsupervised manner. In the end, the final EU-Turkey pact, adopted a week later on March 18, talks about a strictly voluntary resettlement scheme.

October 2, 2016 — In a referendum in Hungary, over 98 percent of respondents say “no” to the EU’s mandatory migrant relocation quota plans, equipping PM Orbán’s government with a strong mandate to refuse similar plans.

June 13, 2017 — As the first chapter in an orchestrated attack, the Juncker Commission launches infringement proceedings against Hungary, Poland and Czechia for refusing to implement a previous EU decision about the compulsory migrant quota.

August 2017 — In a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, PM Orbán requests the European Commission to cover half of Hungary’s expenses related to the building of the southern border fence that effectively put an end to illegal migration on the Serbia-Hungary and Croatia-Hungary border sections. By suggesting that “solidarity is a two-way street.” Juncker refuses.

December 5, 2017 — More than 2.3 million Hungarians take part in the Hungarian government’s national consultation on the Soros Plan, the most successful survey to date, and unanimously reject the mandatory resettlement quota scheme and all political action aimed at realizing it.

May 2018 — In a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, Commission President Juncker announces that in the 2021-2027 EU budget, the European Commission proposes to tie access to payments to a set of rule of law criteria. Clearly, this step is aimed at pressuring Member States that hold a different view on migration into falling in line.

September 11, 2018 — Resorting to an underhanded voting trick, the European Parliament’s pro-migration majority adopts the notorious Sargentini Report, proposing an Article 7 procedure against Hungary due to “rule of law concerns.”

July 2020 — EU leaders approve a EUR 1.8 trillion budget package for the 2021-2027 financial framework, including a EUR 750 billion Next Generation recovery fund aimed at remedying the economic impact of the coronavirus. The adopted proposal clearly avoids tying EU monies to rule of law conditions. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that the German EU Presidency will make sure to conclude the Article 7 procedure against Hungary.

September 2020 — PM Orbán and fellow V4 leaders refuse the updated migration strategy of the von der Leyen Commission. “Even if you repackage it, the quota will still be a quota,” the leaders said.

November 16, 2020 — Due to the fact that the latest version of the 2021-2027 EU budget and recovery fund includes an arbitrary “rule of law” conditionality, the governments of Hungary and Poland exercise their veto over the adoption of the budgetary package.

November 18, 2020 — With an article entitled “Europe Must Stand Up to Hungary and Poland,” George Soros proposes a way for the EU’s left-liberal majority to “circumvent” the “Orbán-Kaczyński veto.” By asserting himself in the debate once again, the billionaire Soros, who carries no democratic mandate from European voters, makes it clear that he and his open society ideologues are applying pressure with this rule of law debate.

Make no mistake, the EU’s “rule of law debate,” has never really been about actual “rule of law.” If we look back at the last five years, we can see clearly how the topic of rule of law has gained momentum every time the EU’s liberal, pro-migration forces fail to impose their will on Member States, like Hungary and Poland, that oppose migration.