The General Affairs Council (GAC) is meeting on 15 November 2023, to discuss, among other things, the rule of law situation in Hungary and Poland. Under the framework of Article 7(1) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) procedures, the Council of the European Union will engage in discussions addressing the evolving landscape of the rule of law in Poland and assessing Hungary’s commitment to EU values. This deliberation follows a series of hearings conducted as part of the Article 7(1) procedure, totaling six for each country.
Concerns regarding Poland’s adherence to EU values, dating back to 2017, include the absence of an independent and legitimate constitutional review and the enactment of legislation by the Polish Parliament that raises serious concerns about judicial independence. Similarly, Hungary’s rule of law challenges encompass issues such as the functionality of the constitutional and electoral system, the independence of the judiciary and other institutions.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution in June 2023 assessing the undermining of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary. The text also questions Hungary’s legitimacy to chair the Council Presidency in 2024 given its lack of compliance with EU law and values and its closer ties with Russia. The European Parliament’s rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs on the situation in Hungary have further expressed concerns relating to the Council process. In a letter dated 13 November 2023, they expressed their regret that there will be no Article 7(1) TEU hearing organised and that only a state of play debate will be held during the GAC meeting.
- Council of the European Union: Reasoned proposal regarding the rule of law in Poland and Reasoned proposal regarding respect for the EU values in Hungary
- European Commission: 2023 Rule of Law Report
- European Parliament: Breaches of the Rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and frozen EU funds
- 15 November 2023: General Affairs Council
- 23 November 2023: European Parliament Plenary session debate on the report “Proposals of the European Parliament for the amendment of the Treaties”
European Movement International’s Position
The European Movement International has put forward a set of recommendations in our policy positions on the Rule of Law and on the Follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) to strengthen the enforcement of the rule of law framework in the EU Member States thereby protecting and fostering democracy in the EU.
Firstly, we call for the full application of the rule of law conditionality to the 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, building on the results of the CoFoE, we underline that EU decision-making needs to shift to qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council for the enforcement of the rule of law framework. Article 7 TEU enshrines membership rights suspension mechanism due to “a serious and persistent breach” or “clear risk” of a breach of European values by a Member State. The current requirement of unanimity to trigger this process renders effective action unattainable. Thus, eliminating the veto power for the individual Member State would ensure not just the improvement of the democratic functioning of the EU but it will also help address more effectively violations of the rule of law in Member States.
Thirdly, the EU should support civil society and social partners in their work and strengthen civil society’s capacity to monitor the rule of law in Member States. In addition, we recommend institutionalising the rule of law dialogue, with the inclusion of civil society organisations and social partners and welcome the initiative to open the rule of law framework to candidate states prior to their EU accession.
Lastly, we invite the EU institutions to consider a wider definition of the rule of law which would encompass a strong focus also on the respect for social rights, particularly workers’ and trade union rights as key human rights. This must be reflected in all rule of law mechanisms and safeguards at EU level.