On 26th April, the European Parliament debated the state of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary. MEPs decided that they would follow up this debate with a resolution addressed to the Hungarian government that it would adopt when the European Parliament meets again in mid-May.
This resolution is not legally binding. But it can create political pressure on the Hungarian government to live up to the promises it has made to its population and to other European countries. It is worth noting that the vast majority of Hungarians support the country’s membership to the European Union.
All EU countries have committed themselves to uphold the ‘fundamental values’ of the EU, listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. These are democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. All EU countries have also signed up to legally binding human rights treaties created by the United Nations and by the Council of Europe, such as the European Convention on Human Rights. These are also part of Hungarian law, thus legally binding for any elected government.
NGOs are vital
Since 2010, the Hungarian government has adopted a series of reforms that have damaged the state of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. The latest developments include laws targeting asylum seekers, foreign universities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as a campaign to turn its population against the EU.
The Civil Liberties Union for Europe, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are particularly concerned with the government’s attacks on NGOs. NGOs are vital to a properly functioning democracy because they allow the public to participate in the democratic process and help to make sure governments do not break national and international law.
We urge MEPs to include the following points in the European Parliament’s resolution on Hungary:
- A call to the European Commission to recognise that recent developments in Hungary have the combined effect of creating a systemic threat to the rule of law. The Commission should therefore formally initiate the Rule of Law Framework regarding Hungary.
- A call to the Presidency of the Council of the EU to place the situation of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary on the agenda of the General Affairs Council for discussion by national governments.
- A note to welcome the decision of the European Commission to open infringement proceedings against Hungary concerning the Act amending the National Higher Education Act.
- A call to the European Commission to renew its stalled infringement proceedings against Hungary concerning breaches of EU asylum rules.
- A calls to the government of Hungary to withdraw the proposed Law on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad (Hungarian Parliament Bill T/14967);
- A call to the European Commission to initiate infringement proceedings against the Hungarian government, should it adopt the proposed Law on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad;
- A call on the government of Hungary to cease its campaign of stigmatisation against certain civil society organisations and against the EU.
We also urge the European Parliament to press the Commission to create new tools to help protect its fundamental values in the long term. First, MEPs should repeat their call to the Commission to create a regular process of monitoring and dialogue involving all Member States: the ‘mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights’, proposed by the European Parliament in October 2016.
Second, MEPs should request the European Commission to amend its Justice Programme 2014-2020 and its Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020. Currently, these two programmes provide funding for NGOs to work on specific projects that are usually very technical, such as legal training or collecting and exchanging good practices with lawyers and civil servants. The Commission should amend these programmes so that they can be used to provide funding to cover the basic running costs of NGOs. The Commission should also help NGOs by providing training and other forms of support so that they can improve their ability to educate larger public audiences about the importance of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. MEPs could also ask the Commission to publish a proposal, by December 2017, for legislation to create a European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights inside the EU. This would allow the EU to give more support for its fundamental values inside its member countries, in the same way as it does as part of its foreign policy.
This text was written jointly by experts of Liberties, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union & the Hungarian Helsinki Committee