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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

European Parliament Plenary – Commission statement on the situation in Hungary First Vice-President Timmermans Strasbourg, 19 May 2015

Strasbourg, 19 May 2015

I would like to thank the Parliament for putting this topic on the agenda, as two recent developments in Hungary have given rise to important concerns.

Let me start with the debate launched by Prime Minister Orbán on the reintroduction of the death penalty.

President Juncker and I already made clear statements on this, and these represent the official position of the Commission. Article 2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits explicitly and clearly any person from being condemned to death, or executed. In addition, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the death penalty is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The abolition of the death penalty is a condition which States are required to meet in order to become members of the Council of Europe or of the EU. This is part of our common values.

As far as the Commission is concerned, there is no doubt that the reintroduction of capital punishment would be contrary to the EU's fundamental values. A reintroduction of the death penalty by a Member State would therefore lead to the application of Article 7 TEU. The mechanisms of Article 7 TEU relate to the values referred to in Article 2 TEU, including human dignity and respect for human rights.

As you know the Treaties do not foresee suspending or withdrawing the membership of a Member State of the European Union. However, Article 7 TEU provides for a far reaching sanction mechanism specifically designed to ensure respect for the fundamental values of Article 2 TEU.

More specifically on the situation in Hungary let me make the following comments.

President Juncker stated on 30 April that Mr Orbán should immediately clarify that it is not his intention to reintroduce the death penalty. Would it be his intention, "it would be a fight".

The Commission has in the meantime understood that the Hungarian government does not have concrete plans to take any steps to introduce the death penalty, and that Prime Minister Orbán has assured President Schulz that the Hungarian government will respect and honour all European treaties and legislation. I refer to the press release of President Schulz of 30 April.

However, if the Hungarian government were to take steps to reintroduce the death penalty, let me underline that the Commission is ready to use immediately all the means at its disposal to ensure that Hungary – as well as any other Member State – complies with its obligations under Union law and respects the values of the Union enshrined in Article 2 TEU. We will not hesitate a second on such a case.

On the public consultation on immigration as announced by the Hungarian government, let me make the following comments.

In general the Commission considers that public consultation can be an important tool for governments and other public authorities to develop policies that can count on support of the population.

However, and I repeat what I already stated earlier, a public consultation based on bias, on leading and even misleading questions, on prejudice about immigrants can hardly be considered a fair and objective basis for designing sound policies.

Framing immigration in the context of terrorism, depicting migrants as a threat to jobs and the livelihood of people, is malicious and simply wrong - it will only feed misconceptions and prejudice.

We should not close our eyes to the sometimes serious challenges posed by migration in our societies. But in doing so, we should never lose sight of our fundamental values and of the need to preserve a pluralist and diverse society, based on mutual respect and equal treatment of every single individual.

EU and its Member States are developing common answers to the current challenges, as Europe is based on mutual respect, solidarity and sincere cooperation. We need political leaders who are willing to explain EU policy to their citizens in an open, fair and balanced manner, and who stand firm for joint and common European values. This is the only way we can make progress together in Europe.

The Commission will continue to monitor the situation closely and I thank the European Parliament explicitly for your continued support on these important matters.


European Parliament Plenary – Closing remarks on the situation in Hungary by First Vice-President Timmermans Strasbourg, 19 May 2015

Strasbourg, 19 May 2015

Thank you very much Mr President, I have a few comments to make on what was said, if I may.

First of all, of course it is very important and interesting to hear of the economic success of Hungary. And I know Prime-minister Orbán is a formidable campaigner, who has won most of the astonishing election victories and therefore has a huge democratic mandate. But neither economic success nor democratic mandate can weaken the position of the rule of law in any Member State of the European Union. You cannot use an electoral victory or economic success as a condition to say we don’t then have to observe the rule of law in a Member State. So I'm interested in hearing the stories about economic success and electoral success but it’s neither here nor there in this debate, frankly. This debate is about the rule of law.

Secondly, this debate in my perception is not about party politics. I respect everybody who wants to make it a debate about party politics, but for the Commission it is not. And I'm sure that many in the ALDE group would be surprised to be categorised as left wing today but this is a completely different matter.

Thirdly, I’m all in favour of the freedom of speech. It is one of the fundamental values we cherish. It is one of the values Mr Orbán fought very hard for when he was in opposition against a communist regime before the end of the European divide, because that's when I got to know him (and indeed he was a Liberal at the time).

 But this freedom of speech is also limited by the rule of law. If you say: "I want to have a debate on abolishing the death penalty", of course you can have a debate on that. But having a proposal on the abolishment of the death penalty would lead to a violation of international obligations and European obligations. It is incompatible with the membership of the European Union. Prime Minister Orbán has been very clear about this: he is never intending to put a proposal forward to do that. Well my political question is that if you're never intending to make a proposal why then have a debate? What is then the reason for the debate? But that is a different matter and let me also sometimes have a rhetoric question.

And finally, finally, if we have a debate – and I salute Prime Minister Orbán, I respect the fact that he comes here, because he knows exactly what is going to happen here; he comes here he stands for his position and he defends it, and I as a democrat respect that.

But my respect would be bigger if the proposals of the Commission would not be put forward as a caricature as has been done by Prime Minister Orbán today. Where, Prime Minister, in the proposal of the Commission, does the Commission propose to have an open door policy for migration into the European Union? Where is that, please tell me? Where in the proposals of the migration proposals of the Commission do we propose to have freedom for all economic migrants to come here, where do we that?

On the contrary, we want to have a much firmer policy to have people who do not have the right to asylum to return to where they came from, that is part and parcel of the Commission's proposals. And if we have the issue of quotas, it is in very, very limited, very serious cases of very serious crises. In a situation where a very very high number of asylum requests is indeed attributed to the one who does it because they come in this case from Syria or Eritrea where we know that these people are fleeing war and conflict. But this quota idea is for a very very limited number of people. And it would help the debate, honestly, if we would not make a caricature of the proposals of the European Commission because it would also help to have the European public be better informed on what we intend to do.

And indeed, we do need to do something to prevent people massively coming to Europe who do not have the right to asylum. We should help them stay in the countries where they belong, we should help to have them stay in the region where they belong, and this is all part of the Commission's proposal.

I make this point so strongly because I do believe that the only way forward in the migration debate is to be honest and clear about each other’s intention and each other's plan.

So my plea, from the bottom of my heart to the Hungarian government and to everybody else is: don’t make a caricature of the Commission's proposals on migration, because we are on the same page in terms of fighting illegal migration. But we are also advocating a humane approach, in full accordance with values we share. Values, Prime Minister, you fought for as a young man when your people and country was being oppressed by communism.

Those values are values we share in the European Union. And you participate in the debate because you know full well that we are entitled to address each other about these values. You can't say nobody from an outside EU member state can talk about the situation in my country, that’s part and parcel of being part of the European community of values that we do address the internal situation in each other's country. We should do it with respect, I fully agree with you Prime Minister, but it is no exclusion of debating the situation in Member States simply because you're not a national of that Member State. That is also being part of the community of values that is the European Union.

Let me end on this, talking about the very difficult cases of refugees. I think in the county I know best – my country of origin, the Netherlands – Nemeth, Szass, Toth: these are now Dutch names. These are now names of sometimes the most successful people in the Dutch society.

These are people, or children of people, who had to flee communist oppression when the Soviet Union crushed Hungary's wish for liberty in 1956. And I as a Dutchman am proud to have Nemeth, Toth, Szass and all the other Hungarian names as part of the Netherlands, as part of our community of values.

And they could do that because the Dutch people and many other Europeans in 1956 knew that the desperate people fleeing from Hungary needed a place to go. And they opened their hearts, they opened their homes, they opened their societies. And this is an example that we deserve to follow, this is an example that tells us what European values are really, really about.

Thank you very much, Mr President.


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