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MEPs to mull ‘nuclear option’ against Hungary

MEPs on the European Parliamentʼs Committee on Civil Liberties will assess in the coming months whether Hungary is at risk of a serious breach of EU values. If this is the case, Parliament could ask the Council to act, potentially triggering Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union to enforce compliance.

MEP Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL)

In May this year, MEPs at a plenary session of the European Parliament requested the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to draw up a formal resolution on the basis of Article 7 of the EU Treaty, noting a deterioration of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Hungary. The committee plans to hold a public hearing by the end of this year with representatives of the Hungarian government, civil society and experts, according to a press release published on the European Parliament website.

As a next step, Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL), Parliament’s rapporteur, will present her draft report to the Civil Liberties Committee in March 2018. Other MEPs will have until April to table amendments; the vote in committee is slated for June 2018.

The parliamentary Committee on Culture and Education, and the Committee on Constitutional Affairs will also both deliver opinions. The Committee on Budgetary Control also wishes to table an opinion. The resolution will be put to a vote in a plenary session in September 2018.

“I am glad we can start working on this report. It will be the first time the European Parliament will carry out this procedure, so I want to make sure we have a transparent and thorough investigation before getting to conclusions. I look forward to talking to Hungarian authorities, civil society, scientists and other persons involved to get a balanced view of the situation in Hungary,” said Sargentini.

The slow build-up

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which has so far never been invoked but which is sometime referred to as the EUʼs “nuclear option,” provides a mechanism to enforce EU values.

Under Article 7(1), the Council may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values by a Member State and is intended to prevent an actual breach by addressing specific recommendations to the Member State in question. This can be triggered by one third of Member States, by Parliament or by the Commission. The Council has to adopt a decision by a four-fifths majority after having received Parliamentʼs consent, which also requires a two-thirds majority of the votes cast and an absolute majority of MEPs.

The next phase is Article 7(2), by which an actual breach of EU values can be determined by the Council on a proposal by a third of Member States or the Commission. The Council needs to decide by unanimity and the Parliament needs to give its consent.

Article 7(3) launches sanctions, such as the suspension of voting rights in the Council.

Further details about the procedures are available here.

A number of infringement procedures launched by the European Commission are ongoing against Hungary, including one over the governmentʼs recently passed legislation on foreign-funded NGOs, and another pertaining to amendments to education law that have endangered the operation of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, triggering mass street protests in the spring and widespread international condemnation. Another infringement procedure relates to Hungaryʼs refusal to participate in the EU-wide relocation of refugees.