New FIDH report denounces six years of attacks against the rule of law and calls for EU reaction | Den norske Helsingforskomité

New FIDH report denounces six years of attacks against the rule of law and calls for EU reaction

New FIDH report denounces six years of attacks against the rule of law and calls for EU reaction

Human rights and the rule of law in Hungary have been under sustained attack since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took power in 2010, reveals FIDH in a new report released today. FIDH urges the government to halt this assault and calls for a strong and prompt reaction by the European Union, up to the activation of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which could lead to the suspension of Hungary’s rights under the Treaties. NHC is a Norwegian member of the international network of human rights organisation FIDH.

-These attacks are undermining democracy in Hungary but also the European Union’s founding values, declared Dan Van Raemdonck, FIDH Secretary General.-If no action is taken, it is the whole European Union project as a community of values which is put into question.

The 84-page report explains how the new Constitution - the Fundamental Law - and over 600 laws and measures adopted since 2010 have had an adverse impact on human rights across sectors and negatively affected the separation of powers, an essential element of democracy and the rule of law. All counter-powers, from the judiciary and the legislative power to media and civil society have been systematically weakened or brought under control of the executive. What should serve, in a democratic State, as checks and balances to ensure democratic oversight and accountability for government’s actions has been undermined in Hungary to an extent that they can no longer safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Most laws are pushed through via fast-track procedures, which bypass democratic rules and limit parliamentary and public debate and stakeholder participation.

NHC published a policy paper on the developments in Hungary earlier this year. Please find it here.

Read also the NHC report Democracy and Human Rights at Stake in Hungary from 2013 here.

The space for civil society has also been shrinking. NGOs which are critical towards the government have been increasingly targeted through government-orchestrated campaigns and politically motivated investigations and procedures.  These significantly hinder the possibility for civil society organisations to carry out their work and contribute to an intimidating climate for NGOs.

The report also exposes the violations of the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, resulting from a profound and drastic overhaul of the Hungarian asylum system in response to  increased  migratory flows into the country in 2015. These violations and the anti-migrant information campaign run by the government since 2015, which culminated in the 2 October referendum on refugee quotas, testify to a continued defiance by Hungary of its obligations under international and European law. The 7th and latest amendment of the Fundamental Law of Hungary, which is set to come into effect on 8 November, will mark a further step in this process. By requiring the Hungarian Parliament’s approval before refugees can be relocated in Hungary under an EU emergency scheme, the proposed amendment challenges the decisions taken by EU member states within the Council of the EU.

Besides infringement proceedings and exchanges between the European Commission and the Hungarian government regarding specific aspects in the legislation which raised concerns regarding their compatibility with EU law, no concrete steps have been taken to date by the EU to address the situation more broadly. This, despite worrying signs of similar developments in other EU member states, further undermining the rule of law and which the EU’s inaction towards Hungary may have inadvertently paved the way to.

-The EU must show that it is serious about ensuring full compliance by all member states with their obligations under the Treaties, including Article 2 TEU and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, concluded Dan Van Raemdonck.-It should stop hiding behind procedural gaps, and ensure that the same standards of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights are required from all member states before and after accession.

The EU’s continued inaction against Hungary is all the more surprising following activation by the European Commission, earlier this year, of the EU Framework to strengthen the Rule of Law against Poland. FIDH welcomed this step, but regretted that the EU has not shown the same commitment to upholding its own founding values in the face of a similarly alarming situation in Hungary.

Background

Article 7 TEU
Article 7 TEU provides for a mechanism to be activated when there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU (Article 7 (1)). Once the existence of a serious and persistent breach is determined, and after inviting the member state in question to submit its observations (Article 7 (2)), the Council may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the member state in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council (Article 7 (3)). The Council may always decide to vary or revoke measures taken under § 3 in response to changes in the situation which led to their being imposed (Article 7 (4)).

The EU Framework to strengthen the Rule of Law
The EU Framework to strengthen the Rule of Law was adopted by the European Commission in March 2014 to address systemic threats to the rule of law in EU member states. It establishes a tool allowing the Commission to initiate a dialogue with the member state concerned to prevent their escalation and the emergence of a systemic threat that could develop into a ‘clear risk of a serious breach’ which could trigger the use of the Article 7 TEU mechanism. The Framework, which was meant to fill the gap between other instruments that the EU has at its disposal to address specific violations of EU law in its member states (such as infringement procedures provided for under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)) and Article 7 TEU, was activated for the first time in January 2016 against Poland. The procedure is still pending.