No government is above the rule of law

During the European Parliament’s (EP) Plenary session on 18 January 2024, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are set to vote on a resolution on the situation in Hungary and the EU funds withheld due to the persistent breaches of the rule of law and fundamental rights in the country.

In the joint debate with the representatives of the European Commission (EC) and the Council of the EU, MEPs are expected to question the lawfulness of the EC’s decision to unblock the €10.2 billion of cohesion funds for Hungary on the eve of the December 14-15 2023 European Council summit. The Committee on Legal Affairs will be tasked to launch an inquiry into whether the actions implemented by the Hungarian government in the area of judicial independence were sufficient to remedy its prior deliberate and systematic efforts to undermine the rule of law, thus fulfilling the enabling condition for disbursing the money under the conditionality mechanism.

Ahead of the upcoming Special European Council meeting scheduled for 1 February 2024, as well as the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU starting as of 1 July 2024, MEPs will call in the resolution for the launch of the procedure to potentially deprive Hungary of its voting rights in the Council. The mechanism enshrined in Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) allows the EU to suspend certain membership rights if it can be established that there has been “a serious and persistent breach” of a breach of European values by a Member State. As the mechanism requires unanimity in the Council, it has never been successfully invoked despite the EP’s requests in 2018 and 2023.

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European Movement International’s Position 

In our policy position on the rule of law, we outline possible ways to strengthen the existing EU toolbox for enforcing and defending fundamental values and to enhance the EU’s capability to protect and foster the rule of law and democracy in the European Union.

Firstly, we propose the full application of the rule of law conditionality mechanism to the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and retroactively to any violations of the rule of law or of judicial independence, which have occurred since its introduction on 1 January 2021.

Secondly, we support the EP’s call to utilise the Article 7 procedure and suspend Hungary’s voting rights until the government takes sufficient measures to address the persistent rule of law violations. Nevertheless, we stress that the unanimity in the Council required to trigger the mechanism renders effective action unattainable due to Member States’ vetoes. Considering the ongoing debates, it has become more apparent that veto powers allow individual Member States to dilute, delay, and hinder decisions which benefit the EU as a whole.

For this reason, building on the recommendations from the Conference on the Future of Europe, we emphasise the pressing need for a comprehensive institutional reform, including shifting from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council for the enforcement of the rule of law framework and for those policy areas to which competences have been conferred by the Treaties to the EU. This would ensure improvement of the democratic functioning of the EU and help address more effectively violations of the rule of law in Member States.



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