Are you sure?

MEPs debate Hungarian constitutional amendments

The European Parliament held a plenary session on Wednesday to debate Hungary’s fourth constitutional amendment which is under scrutiny by various European institutions. European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding told the session the commission was examining three issues: a clause on European Court of Justice judgements entailing payment obligations, the head of the National Office for the Judiciary’s powers to transfer cases from one court to another and restrictions on the publication of political advertisements during election campaigns. The European People’s Party is awaiting the European Commission’s assessment of whether Hungary’s latest constitutional amendments comply with EU law, an EPP group official said. “Hungary is not worse than us,” Frank Engel, an MEP from Luxembourg in the European People’s Party group told the session. If criticism is focused exclusively on Hungary then Hungarians will get the impression that Europe is not their friend, he said, adding that sSuch sentiments have also developed in other members states. If individual interests get too much emphasis to the detriment of community values then Europe “can lose very many supporters.” Head of the European Socialists group, Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda, said it was unacceptable in a constitutional state that certain laws are lifted into the constitution only to be made immune to examination by the constitutional court. Swoboda added that the argument that Hungary received criticism only from the left was “nonsense” and urged the EPP to decide whether to take the side of the European Commission or that of [prime minister] Viktor Orbán. Swoboda urged Hungary to stop the “japes” against Reding. He said the Vice-President is presented in Hungary as “the pitbull of Europe.” Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberals Group, urged the EP to take a unified stance on Hungary and what he called a clear breach of EU laws and values, for which Article 7 of the EU’s Basic Treaty, which allows the community to strip a state from its voting rights, should be activated. He noted that this procedure had been unprecedented. But if the Commission fails to resort to it then parliament should, he added. Rebecca Harms, co-leader of the Greens’ group, insisted that the EP was not intervening in Hungary’s domestic affairs with its criticism, as civil rights and the rule of law were at the heart of the European project. If these were to become empty phrases and failed to materialise, the very essence of Europe would be lost, she said.