The parliamentary group of the ruling Fidesz party sees a European Citizens’ Initiative on fundamental EU values in Hungary as a “political revenge” launched by “pro-immigration forces” over the government’s migration policy.
The Fidesz group issued a statement on Monday after the European Commission registered the initiative, which seeks an application of Article 7 for alleged breaches of the EU’s fundamental values against Hungary. Article 7 allows for the suspension of voting rights in case of a serious and persistent breach of EU values by a member state.
According to Fidesz, the initiative is an attempt to exert pressure on the government to give up all measures through which it has “successfully protected Hungary while Brussels’ immigration policy has failed”. In the statement, the ruling party called on the government to “protect the physical and legal border seal with all its might and save the country from the EU’s mandatory migrant quotas”.
The initiative – called Wake Up Europe! – was launched by the European Humanist Federation (EHF), which according to the description on its website unites more than 50 humanist and secularist organisations from about 20 European countries: “It is the largest umbrella organisation of humanist associations in Europe, promoting a secular Europe, defending equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief, fighting religious conservatism and privilege in Europe and at the EU level”.
The EHF can be associated with a number of organisations financed by businessman George Soros, who has recently been a strong critic of the Fidesz government’s actions.
According to the Wake Up Europe! website, “since 2010, the Hungarian government has repeatedly taken antidemocratic and xenophobic measures that openly violate the basic principles of the rule of law and European democratic values. The brutal and unacceptable way it has treated migrants and refugees at Hungary’s door has further worried democrats across Europe. Worse, it has also started to influence other Member States where the democratic culture is still recent and fragile”.
EHF believes that the response of the European Union has proven clearly inefficient to stop this authoritarian drifting, which is why “a committee of EU citizens has launched an initiative to urge the European Commission to stand firmly against Hungary and to bring the issue to the Council”.
The European Citizens’ Initiative was introduced with the Treaty of Lisbon, and it is aimed at increasing direct democracy in the European Union. The initiative enables one million citizens of the European Union, who are nationals of at least one quarter of the member states (seven at the moment), to call directly on the European Commission to propose a legal act in an area where the member states have conferred powers onto the EU level.
Now that the European Commission has registered the initiative, drives for support can begin. EHF needs to get one million signatures in the next 12 months and they can do so online as well once their system is certified by national authorities. The support has to come from at least seven countries and there is a minimum number of signatories on the way to one million. In the case of Hungary – where they can probably gather the biggest support – this number is 16,500.
Should the EHF reach its goal, they can submit the initiative to the Commission, but that still does not mean the voting right of Hungary will be suspended. Submission only means that the Commission is “invited” to look at the proposed policy or legislation, it is not obliged to act.
And if the Commission does act and initiates Article 7 – which is said to be a “last resort to resolve a crisis and ensure compliance with EU values” –, the European Council acting by a majority of four-fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, has to determine that a “serious breach” of the Lisbon Treaty has persisted for some time.
The values in question are enlisted in Article 2: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
Then the member state in question has to be auditioned, and besides determining the “clear risk” the Council is entitled to propose recommendations about how to solve the situation. After this “hearing” the Council continuously monitors whether the problems that caused the “risk” are still present, or if there was a positive change in the respective policy of the member state.
If there is no change, then the European Council is entitled to step up. On a proposal by one third of the member states or by the Commission, the European Council acting by unanimity can declare the existence of a serious and persistent breach. The member state in question cannot participate in this vote; however it has the chance to submit its observations.
After this procedure, the Council can decide, acting by qualified majority, about introducing several kinds of sanctions, one of which is the suspension of the voting rights of the country.