Yesterday we heard the welcome news that four European Parliament political groups — the European People’s Party, Renew Europe (formerly the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats), the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, and the Greens — had submitted a joint motion for a resolution on EU coordinated action to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. The long document’s 36th and 37th paragraphs state that the European Parliament
36. Underlines that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and compliance with the rule of law must continue to apply, and that in the context of emergency measures, the authorities must ensure that everyone enjoys the same rights and protection; emphasizes that all measures taken at national and/or EU level must be in line with the rule of law, strictly proportionate to the exigencies of the situation, clearly related to the ongoing health crisis, limited in time and subjected to regular scrutiny; deems it totally incompatible with European values both the decision from the Hungarian Government to prolong the state of emergency indefinitely, to authorize the Government to rule by decree without time limit, and to weaken the emergency oversight of the Parliament, and the steps taken by the Polish Government – namely changing the electoral code against the judgment of Constitutional Tribunal and provisions laid by law – to hold Presidential elections in the middle of a pandemic, which may endanger the lives of Polish citizens and undermine the concept of free, equal, direct and secret elections as enshrined in the Polish Constitution.
37. Calls, therefore, on the Commission to urgently assess whether the emergency measures are in conformity with the Treaties and to make full use of all available EU tools and sanctions to address this serious and persistent breach, including budgetary ones, underlining once again the imminent need for an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights; urges the Council to put back on its agenda the discussions and procedures related to the ongoing Article 7 procedures.
444, reporting on the document, correctly pointed out that, given the size of these political groups, there was no question that the resolution would be adopted today by a large majority. On the same day, an opinion piece appeared in Magyar Nemzet that expressed total incomprehension over the barrage of criticism of the Hungarian government’s totally harmless law, which is supposed to combat the killer virus that threatens the world. This criticism comes at a time when “the country is most defenseless,” which the author considers proof of the “lack of solidarity.” The European Parliament is striking out against Hungary because it is an outstanding example of a successful nation state, claimed the journalist. As a friend of mine noted, the article seems worried that Viktor Orbán’s enabling law may have serious consequences after all.
Even before the vote, we knew that Fidesz-KDNP MEPs would not vote for the proposal because, as they stated, “the left-liberal-centrist pro-migration majority has for years been vehemently attacking Hungary, and now in the midst of the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic they move political and ideological debates to the forefront instead of focusing on broad cooperation.” They opted to abstain.
As I said, only a very small portion of the document dealt with Hungary and Poland. The emphasis was on the coordinated action necessary to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which by Fidesz abstention was also rejected by the Orbán government. For example, the proposal approved 3.8 billion euros for improving healthcare in needy member states. The proposal would enable the Union to purchase and distribute medical equipment to those member states. Another 3.6 billion euros was approved for the establishment of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. It also calls for a European Health Response Mechanism to better prepare and respond in a common and coordinated fashion to any type of health or sanitary crisis. It calls for “a massive recovery and reconstruction package for investment to support the European economy after the crisis.” In brief, there are many forward looking and important suggestions in this document, which deserve another blog post.
This didn’t impress the Fidesz MEPs, who consider the assistance too little too late. Although they claim that they support all of the assistance designed to fight the virus, I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t have voted for the resolution even if it didn’t contain a condemnation of the Hungarian government because, as István Ujhelyi, MSZP MEP, correctly noted, the resolution is an “integrated historic stance” for a more closely integrated Europe, which is anathema to Viktor Orbán and his followers.
Balázs Hidvéghi, whose rather embarrassing career in the European Parliament I have covered many times, in an interview with Magyar Nemzet tried this afternoon to discredit the resolution by intimating that the current functioning of the European Parliament is illegal. As he put it, what’s going on now is “absurd” because the majority of the MEPs are currently in their own countries and therefore cannot take part in the plenary sessions, which still convene. Therefore, he, like many others, cannot participate in the discussions. Hidvéghi was outraged that “this parliament wants to teach democracy to Hungary.”
Csaba Dömötör, undersecretary in the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister (the propaganda ministry), said in a television interview with Hír TV that “the coronavirus law will in no way change” because “the epidemic is more important than the political cudgel” being used by certain members of the European Union.
Justice Minister Judit Varga was also upset over the fact that, in the middle of an epidemiological crisis, members of the European Parliament, instead of showing solidarity, “threaten to withdraw funds and call on the European Commission to apply sanctions.” In addition, there is EPP Chairman Donald Tusk’s determination to get rid of Fidesz by the end of the year.
Tusk practically called Orbán a Nazi in an interview with Der Spiegel when he said that “we have seen often enough in history when politicians use the law for the extension of their power. This should be familiar to Germans. I’m certain that Carl Schmitt would be very proud of Viktor Orbán.” Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) is considered to be one of the most important critics of liberalism and parliamentary democracy and was a prominent member of the Nazi Party. Tusk is a straight talker. He at last said what had to be said.