Last week saw the release of a report on the state of human rights in Hungary to the European Union by Portugal MEP Rui Tavares. Now known in diplomatic and journalistic circles as simply the “Tavares Report,” the research proposed that the current Hungarian government is on shaky ground at best with regard to basic rights and may be outright anti-democratic.
Tavares began the debate in Strasbourg with Article II of the Maastricht Treaty, to wit: “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.”
To hammer home his point, Tavares spoke the words in Hungarian and though the remainder of his findings were presented in EU-standard English, the language was clear: Current trends demonstrated by the Hungarian government are “mov[ing] away from the values in Article 2” and calling for a trialogue involving the European Council.
Tavares and his committee “have done work for over a year examining over 500 changes to Hungarian law by the government, that touch all the cornerstones of democracy – the parliament, the media, the judiciary, the electoral law, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the data protection authority; the constitution alone was changed 12 times, then a new constitution was made, then four changes to this constitution [were enacted] in one year. Not only the pace and the scope of the changes were unusual, but the general trend is one towards concentration of power with the majority…”
Last Tuesday, the report was endorsed by the EU parliament by vote following Tavares’ presentation, by a count of 370-240 with 82 abstentions, despite a warning from prime minister Viktor Orbán himself that the decision “represents a real threat to Europe’s future. The recommendation of the report violate the basic treaties of the EU because they attempt to establish an institution formerly not recognized by the treaties, an institution that would put one country of the European Union under monitoring and guardianship.”
Orbán would go on to call the final vote “unjust.” Reaction from observers and the governing coalition in Hungary was swift – and thorough enough to continue to today.
Yesterday, Enikő Győri, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs was impassioned enough about the report and vote to write in the Financial Times that Tavares’ report consisted of mostly “false claims” which could be “not just damaging politically, [but] also have a potentially serious negative economic impact.” Győri claimed that Tavares and his committee were frightfully ignorant of the situation in Hungary and that “it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to read articles about Hungary without thinking of possible conspiracies aimed against my country.”
The minister stated that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had voted against any sort of monitoring of Hungary by EU authorities, referring to a stringent measure of monitoring formally requested by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch later diluted to a proposal of examination of Hungarian legislative activity; this was the proposed measure soundly defeated in a PACE Bureau vote by a 2-to-1 margin.
Like many other pro-government responses to the report, Győri also claimed that the Strasbourg vote on the Tavares paper was purely a left-wing action, but conservative parties hold just under half the seats in the EU parliament (363 of 766, or 47.2%), a number not representative of a voting outcome based on party lines.
Some five Hungarian MEPs – all members of the opposition, including Lajos Bokros – voted in favor of the report and for these, certain ruling party interests feel a prison sentence is appropriate. Yesterday, Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, legal affairs spokesman of coalition party Jobbik stated that the five yea-sayers should be submitted to questioning for an “act of treason.”
Mentioning in passing that left-wing elements within the European Council have been politically maneuvering against Hungary’s governing coalition since January 2011, Gaudi-Nagy stated that his party would be preparing a report on the five EU MEPs in question for further consideration.