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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
A Europe of values and principles
Plenary debate on the situation in Hungary
Strasbourg, 18th January 2012
Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,
I very much welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate today on the developments in Hungary and to present clearly the Commission's approach and role in this regard. This is an extremely sensitive matter where I believe we have to be clear on the values, firm on the principles, fair on the method and sensible on the communication.
The Commission has been closely monitoring developments related to the new Hungarian Constitutional system since the beginning of 2011. We were in contact with the Hungarian authorities during the preparation of the draft cardinal laws implementing the new Constitution, raising our concerns over the compatibility of these laws with European Union law. Similar concerns were raised among others by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Following a first technical analysis, the Commission urged the authorities in Hungary to modify the draft laws. Unfortunately the Hungarian authorities did not take into account all the Commission requests. These concerns were then expressed at the highest political levels in December, through two letters from myself to Prime Minister Orbán, and by letters from Vice President Rehn and Vice President Reding. Moreover, we notably made it clear that the issue of the independence of the Central Bank needs to be addressed before we can start formal negotiations on the requested EU/IMF financial assistance.
Following adoption of the cardinal laws by the Hungarian Parliament on the 30th of December, the Commission immediately conducted a full and swift legal analysis of the final versions of these laws and their compatibility with European Union Treaties.
Following this legal analysis, yesterday the Commission agreed to launch three infringements procedures. We have sent three letters of formal notice relating to: the independence of the national central bank, the retirement age of judges and prosecutors, and the data protection supervisory authority.
The Commission has also asked for further explanations concerning the independence of the judiciary; on this issue we expect additional clarifications by the Hungarian authorities. Should these clarifications not satisfy or give a right answer, the Commission will not hesitate in taking further action on this very important issue.
These decisions reflect the special responsibility and the quasi-jurisdictional role of the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to provide a sound and thorough legal analysis.
These measures are moreover part of a sustained and determined effort by the Commission to ensure the full respect of European Union law by the Member States. The letter of the law, and also, importantly, the spirit of the law.
The proceedings decided yesterday by the Commission will be treated with the highest priority. At this stage, this is for the Commission mainly an issue of application of European Union law. And we are doing everything in our power to do so in a consistent and objective way.
However, I insist, we will not hesitate to take further steps if deemed appropriate, depending on the formal and substantive replies we receive from the Hungarian authorities.
Today I received a letter from Prime Minister Orbán, reacting to the three Commission decisions. He has indicated to me his intention to modify the relevant legislation and to work with the Commission in the next days in order to find legal solutions to the issues raised.
The Commission will continue its efforts with the Hungarian authorities to explore the different ways to comply with European Union law.
The issues at stake here may go beyond the European Union law matters that have been raised. These other issues should also be addressed. The Council of Europe is currently considering other points of the Hungarian legislation which are under its remit. The Council of Europe Venice Commission could play and important role in this respect.
Both Vice-President Reding and I have discussed these with Secretary General Jagland, who has conveyed his full support to the approach the Commission has taken.
This leads me to the more political dimension of this situation, something that we are also discussing today in this Parliament, as the political body this Parliament is.
In fact, beyond the legal aspects, some concerns have been expressed regarding the quality of democracy in Hungary, its political culture, the relations between government and opposition and between the State and the civil society.
I strongly appeal to the Hungarian authorities to respect the very principles of democracy and freedom and to implement them not only in the norms but also in the practice and in the political and social life in this Country. These are matters where political judgment is more difficult and sometimes, let's be honest, ideologically polarised but I believe that all democratic political forces have an interest to work together for the consolidation of Hungarian democracy.
The Commission will continue to call for the legislation in question to be modified and made compatible with European Union law. Above all, we will continue to urge the Hungarian government to act in a responsible and democratic manner, and in the best interests of all Hungarian citizens. In fact, already yesterday, in a matter that raises also political issues, Vice-President Kroes again sent a letter to the Hungarian authorities expressing our concerns regarding media freedom.
For it is only through a legally stable environment, based on the rule of law, democratic principles and fundamental rights, that the confidence of citizens, of partners and investors can be gained and upheld. In times of economic crisis this is more vital than ever, apart from being, of course, a question of democratic principles.
It is important that the message that this debate in the European Parliament sends to the Hungarian people is that we want Hungary to go on being a respected Member of the European Union.
This should not be a debate against Hungary but for Hungary and with Hungary. We are asking the Hungarian authorities to correct points that raise concerns. We do not want a shadow of doubt on the democracy of any of our Member States. We have the highest regard for the Hungarian people, their history, their culture, and their record of fighting a totalitarian regime, as embodied in their struggle against Soviet troops in 1956. We therefore call on the Hungarian government to clearly demonstrate its commitment to the principles of democracy, freedom and rule of law.
It is important to address these political concerns and I appeal to Prime Minister Orbán to tackle these in a determined and unambiguous way. We believe that this is in the best interest of Hungary and of all our European family.
I thank you for your attention.