On Monday, in a debate with Commissioner Didier Reynders and Minister Tytti Tuppurainen, committee MEPs condemned the lack of progress in ongoing processes and asked for a permanent EU-wide mechanism.
The Civil Liberties Committee debated with the Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders and Finland’s Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen on behalf of the Council the two Article 7 procedures on Hungary and Poland and the evaluation of the annual rule of law dialogue.
The majority of MEPs who took the floor criticised the lack of concrete progress on the Article 7 process (initiated by Parliament in the case of Hungary and by the Commission in the case of Poland), especially in light of continued attacks on the rule of law in these countries. They also praised the efforts and determination of the Finnish Presidency and highlighted that the upcoming Croatian Presidency should continue its work, while highlighting that hearings on the situation in both countries were organised too late – over a year after Parliament’s 2018 reasoned proposal. The Committee Chair and rapporteur for Poland Juan López Aguilar (S&D, ES) and the rapporteur for Hungary Gwendolin Delbos-Corfield (Greens, FR), as well as other MEPs, further condemned the continued failure of the Council to formally include Parliament in the Article 7 process for Hungary.
MEPs stressed that threats to the rule of law need to be addressed in a much more effective and consistent manner, using the entirety of tools currently available (including recourse to the judiciary mechanisms of the EU) but also through the establishment of a permanent monitoring and enforcement mechanism. This would ensure that EU values are respected across the all member states, with many drawing links between EU funding and adherence to the principles enshrined in the Treaty.
Most MEPs highlighted that they continue to be concerned about judicial independence, freedom of expression, corruption, rights of minorities, and the situation of migrants and refugees in Hungary. In the case of Poland, MEPs are still worried about the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and fundamental rights.
In March 2018, Parliament backed the EU Commission’s proposal to activate Article 7 of the EU Treaty in relation to developments in the country.
Hungary was heard by the Council for the first time on 16 September 2019 in a hearing covering all the issues raised by the European Parliament. The second hearing of 10 December 2019 focused on three issues, in order to allow an in-depth assessment of the situation: academic freedom, freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary and other institutions, including the rights of judges.
EU member states may decide, by a majority of four fifths and after receiving the consent of the EP, to launch the procedure laid down in Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which may eventually lead to sanctions, such as the suspension of voting rights in the Council.