"We looked at all the cases we discussed recently regarding Hungary, and the College of Commissioners unanimously decided there is a necessity to have a political dialogue with Viktor Orbán and his government on what direction the country is taking," Frans Timmermans said Wednesday, when he made an unplanned appearance in the press room of the European Commission.
And although the EC has shied away from starting a legal procedure based on Article 7 – as Liberties has learned from Brussels sources, because of pressure from the European People’s Party – Timmermans said all member states should comply with Article 2 of the EU Treaty, which lists democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights as the EU's founding values.
“EU Treaty, Article 7: 1. On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2."
The EC is currently scrutinizing not only the amendment to the higher education law, but also the proposed law on financing NGOs (also known as the foreign-financed NGOs bill), the new asylum law passed in early March, and the case of discrimination against Roma children in education.
A list of open cases on Hungary
"The draft law tabled by members of the governing party on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations is very much on our radar screen," the Dutch commissioner said. "There can be legitimate public interest reasons for ensuring transparency of funding of non-government organizations, but any measures need to be proportionate and must not create undue discrimination within the EU."
"We spoke about the new asylum law too that also raises serious doubts about its compatibility with EU law," said Timmermans, who promised to act quickly if there are no timely changes and the EC doesn't see positive developments.
Lastly, in the field of equality and non-discrimination, the College continues to be attentive to discrimination against Roma children in the educational system, as well as the protection of pregnant women.
EC 'sticking to its guns'
According to the first vice-president, all of these issues will be part of a broader political dialogue that the EC will initiate, and which will include the European Parliament and the Council. Timmermans also called on EU member states to work together and maintain dialogue, and he promised that the EU will "stick to its guns" and do everything that is legally sound and founded. However, he did not state that the EC would trigger its rule of law framework, which is the formal tool of investigation recently used in relation to Poland. There is no "systemic threat to the rule of law" in Hungary, he stated.
He referred to the Article 2 of EU Treaty and said it applies to all member states, even when they are not applying EU law. Based on that article, the commissioners agreed to use all instruments at the disposal under the treaties to uphold the values on which the European Union is founded.
“EU Treaty, Article 2: The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”