Towers of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) after fifth extension in January 2020 – Photo: wikipedia

EU court rejects Hungary, Poland suit against rule-of-law conditionality

In a ruling on Wednesday, the Court of Justice of the European Union said the regulation accepted by the European Parliament and Council on making EU funding conditional on adhering to principles of the rule of law was built on a sound legal footing, rejecting actions brought against the regulation by Hungary and Poland.

The decree is “compatible with the procedure laid down in Article 7 TEU and respects in particular the limits of the powers conferred on the European Union and the principle of legal certainty,” according to the decision based on an expedited procedure.

Poland and Hungary turned to the CJEU last March, saying the “conditionality clause” lacked sufficient legal basis, overstepped the limits of the EU’s competency, aimed at circumventing the Article 7 procedure and was in violation of the principle of legal certainty.

Justice Minister Judit Varga called today’s decision “politically motivated”, while Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party reacted by saying Hungary was being “stigmatised” over its child protection law.

In its reasoning, the CJEU noted that the procedure laid down in the resolution can be launched only when the breaches in question “affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget or the protection of the financial interests of the Union”. The regulation aims to protect the EU’s budget from harm incurred by breaches to the principle, and not at the protection of the principle itself, the CJEU said.

“Compliance by the Member States with the common values on which the European Union … such as the rule of law and solidarity, justifies the mutual trust between those States. Since that compliance is a condition for the enjoyment of all the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to a Member State, the European Union must be able to defend those values,” according to the ruling.

Varga said in a Facebook post today that the decision “proves that Brussels is abusing its power … it is another way of putting pressure on Hungary for the amendments to its child protection law accepted last summer”, which the EU has called discriminative against the LGBTQ community.

Referring to a referendum on the child protection law on April 3, Varga said “Brussels cannot accept that Hungarians can have their say at a referendum. The bureaucratic elite refuses to accept Hungarians’ free decision and opinion,” she said.

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party reacted by saying Hungary was being “stigmatised” over its child protection law. It slammed the ruling as “the latest stage of a months-long campaign of political revenge” which had been “prepared in advance”.

“Brussels does not want to accept Hungary’s refusal to give in to pressure, that it passed a law to stop the LGBTQ propaganda targeting children and even called a referendum on the issue,” the party said in a statement. “That is why Hungary was sued, why this whole rule-of-law jihad was launched and that is why they want to stigmatise, comdemn and punish our country.”

Commenting on the ruling, the Szazadveg Foundation said Hungary could not expect the findings of the European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law Report “to be based on facts and reality and be free from political ideology and influence”.

The EC is carrying on with its “series of intervention attempts” as part of which it reprimands countries “that do not subscribe to the ideas of open societies”, the pro-government think-tank said in a statement.

“Judging by the Sargentini report and the rule-of-law country reports released in the past two years, the report due to be released this year cannot be expected to paint a positive picture of the state of democracy in our country, either,” Szazadveg said. “Instead, it can be expected to reflect the opinions of NGOs financed by George Soros as dictated by their patron, conforming to the left-liberal narrative of Brussels.”

The think-tank said EC representatives will be holding virtual talks with Hungarian stakeholders on Feb. 28 and March 1 with a view to gathering information on Hungary for this year’s Rule of Law Report. Though they will also be reaching out to members of the government and right-wing players, “it is clear that they talk to significantly more stakeholders who are committed to open societies, and it is their views that will be reflected in the reports”, it added.

Szazadveg said it was likely that the report set to be released in July would make mention of the Pegasus spy software case, “in which no unlawful wiretapping has been proven”. The EC is also likely to reference Human Rights Watch’s annual country report on Hungary, the latest of which says the Hungarian government had continued “its attacks on the rule of law and democratic institutions” in 2021, Szazadveg added.

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