Hungary has attacked EU claims of democratic backsliding by Budapest as “politically motivated, biased, and factually incorrect” ahead of Brussels’ first disciplinary hearing into the allegations.
Judit Varga, Hungary’s justice minister, who is in Brussels for Monday’s hearing, tweeted that her country would be “putting law back into the rule of law debate”. She referred to a 158-page riposte published on Monday by Budapest, in which it restated why it thought the proceedings were unwarranted and challenged the legal basis and motives for invoking the procedure.
“The Hungarian government is of the view that the resolution of the European Parliament is politically motivated, biased, and factually incorrect in many aspects, therefore its conclusions are unjustified,” the document said. “In addition, it addresses a number of issues that manifestly fall outside the legitimate scope of the procedure.”
The Budapest broadside also calls for a “timely closure” of the Article 7 disciplinary process, launched by the European Parliament a year ago after prime minister Viktor Orban’s government introduced new laws on the judiciary, media and foreign universities.
Budapest’s moves sparked concern in other member states over the rule of law and whether Hungary was breaching the EU’s fundamental values.
The Article 7 procedure could potentially lead to Hungary losing its EU voting rights. However, some EU diplomats have argued that the mechanism has proved a toothless way to deal with autocratic creep in the bloc. Sanctions require unanimous agreement, but Hungary and Poland, which is also facing Article 7 proceedings, have each vowed to block such measures against the other.
Officials are searching for new mechanisms to enforce democratic standards. Proposals for the EU’s next multiyear budget would tie funding to performance on the rule of law — a link opposed by both Hungary and Poland.
Monday’s hearing is scheduled as part of the regular meeting of EU affairs ministers.
A diplomat from another EU member state said Hungary appeared to see the process as a distraction and wanted to end it quickly, so might offer limited changes in areas such as the judiciary, media freedom and action against foreign universities.
Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, on Monday dismissed the proceedings as the work of the “anti-Hungary, pro-migration lobby”, while Ms Varga, who is in Brussels for the hearings, tweeted that “we are put on pillory for rejecting mass #Immigration”.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP with the Liberal group responded: “You are not put ‘on pillory’ for rejecting mass immigration, but for violating human rights, destroying the rule of law and non-compliance with EU law. Don’t play the martyr.”
Zselyke Csaky, the research director for Europe & Eurasia at Freedom House, said that in the government document, Hungary was employing “legal cynicism and whataboutism”.
She noted that the combative tone of the document “shows they feel confident and are ready to continue the fight”.
Budapest is also likely face pushback in Brussels regarding its choice of commissioner, former justice minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, who critics accuse of being one of the chief architects of the reforms that have landed Hungary in Article 7 proceedings.