S&D, ALDE and Greens call for suspension of Budapest’s voting rights
By Gaspard Sebag | Thursday 05 January 2012
Days after Hungary’s Media Council decided to withdraw the frequency of the country’s only opposition radio - Klubrádió - and following the entry into force, on 1 January, of a new controversial Hungarian constitution, the S&D, ALDE and Greens-EFA groups in the European Parliament called for the suspension of Budapest’s voting rights in the EU. Wilfred Martens, president of the EPP, is expected to outline his party’s position on 6 January. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party is a member of the EPP group.
These three groups voice concerns about the freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the national central bank in particular. “The time has now come to initiate legal and political sanctions by the EU institutions,” said ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium). Verhofstadt, S&D Vice-President Hannes Swoboda (Austria), tipped to become group president later this month, and Greens-EFA Co-Chairs Daniel Cohn-Bendit (France) and Rebecca Harms (Germany) call for a plenary debate with Commission and Council and propose the application of Article 7 of TEU.
Said article stipulates that if “a serious and persistent breach” by a member state of the “values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights” is found, “the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the treaties to the member state in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that member state in the Council”. The Commission, which finds such “a last resort provision” premature to explore, recalled that Article 7 has never been used since its introduction in treaty in 2000.
The Commission confirmed, on 5 January, that the reopening of negotiations following a request for financial assistance from Hungary to the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is contingent on the conclusion of the Commission’s analysis of new legislation concerning the country’s central bank. The Hungarian issue will be the subject of a discussion during the College of Commissioners’ first get-together of the year, on 11 January, said a spokesperson, giving, however, no indication as to whether the college would take a decision on opening or not an infringement procedure. “The independence of the national central bank is prerequisite to legal certainty of the environment that is necessary to ensure financial stability,” said a Commission spokesperson, adding that this concern is shared by the IMF and other national central banks as well as the markets. To begin with, independence is enshrined in the treaties. Since all national central banks work together, the woes of a particular central bank create a threat to the financial stability of the EU at large, said the spokesperson.
College in Copenhagen
On 11 January, the College of Commissioners will leave Brussels for Copenhagen to participate in a two-day meeting with the Danish Presidency.