The Hungarian Government has become a problem for the European Union, and although there is a majority against the policies of Viktor Orbán, the approval of an anti-LGTBI law that prohibits, among other things, talking about homosexuality in schools it opens another schism in the EU and leaves the leaders of the 27 before the opportunity to surround Budapest, which adds a new controversy to its list. The European Council is holding a new summit this Thursday and Friday and although the agenda was going a different way, Hungary will be the subject of conversation.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has already marked territory. “The Hungarian law is a disgrace. I have instructed my responsible commissioners to write a letter to the Hungarian authorities expressing our legal doubts before the rule comes into force“, he commented this Wednesday. The judicial process is open, but it is not clear that it will be effective. The procedure to apply Article 7 of the Treaties – which would suspend Hungary from voting in the Council – remains stalled, and it is a way out impossible because it demands a unanimity that is not given today, especially because of Poland’s support for Orbán.
What alternative is there then? A very clear one: leaving Hungary without European funds. There are a way for a Member State not to receive regional aid, some of which Poland has already been left without recently precisely as a sanction for declaring “LGTBI-free zones” in different parts of the country. This procedure for freezing funds is more agile, since it only requires a qualified majority, that is, that two conditions are met: that 55% of the Member States vote in favor, which in practice means 15 of the 27 Member States and the Member States in favor of the proposal represent at least 65% of the total EU population.
For its part, the European Commission at first it was criticized for its lukewarmness in the first evaluations of the standard since it avoided ruling on the merits until the parliamentary procedure was concluded and afterwards it limited itself to “taking note” of its adoption and announcing that it would analyze the details before deciding the steps to follow.
The alerts from LGTBI groups and the messages of concern from several Member States made the Commission pronounce itself more precisely, first with a message on social networks from the Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders, regretting a week ago the law and already this week, with the vice president Vera Jourova announcing legal measures.
And at the heart of the matter, recovery funds. They are linked to a mechanism that requires compliance with the rule of law, but the Hungarian and Polish governments bought time at the time to lift the blockade on aid. Why? You cannot ‘turn off the tap’ of the aid until the CJEU does not resolve a possible appeal, if they so decide, from Budapest or Warsaw on the legality of the mechanism. That takes at least two years. It gives Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki a lot of leeway to, as up to now, continue to put the Human Rights network in check in both countries.
Parallel to the tense debate on the risks of undemocratic drift in Hungary, a group of 16 countries signed a declaration promoted by the Benelux countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) censuring “discrimination” and “stigmatization” suffered by LGTBIQ people in Hungary and demanding that the European Commission take action. Spain, Germany, France and Ireland are among the signatories that Italy joined at the last minute but not Portugal, arguing that the current EU presidency must remain neutral.
More topics on the table
At the summit, the European Council also will take stock of the epidemiological and vaccine situation and coordination efforts in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will continue. In this context, the leaders will address any remaining obstacles to the right to free movement throughout the EU. In addition, EU leaders will review the status of implementation of recovery funds.
Relations with Russia and Turkey will be another hot spot in the talks. In the case of Moscow, relations are “at their lowest point” and the EU approved a new strategy days ago.. “In the current circumstances, a renewed partnership between the European Union and Russia, allowing for closer cooperation, seems like a distant prospect,” the High Representative explained. The key is to “stop” Putin’s pretenses and at the same time dialogue with Russia on matters where it is necessary. In any case, in the Member States there are different positions vis-à-vis the Kremlin.
Something similar happens with Turkey. After the rudeness of the ‘Sofagate’, the EU wants to resume the dialogue with Ankara with a view, among other things, to renewing the migration agreement of 2016. Migration has become a matter of the first order, especially since the crisis in Spain with Morocco, and the Union does not want any more conflicts of this type. The externalization of borders means that contacts with third countries have to be constant.