EU: Jourova’s response to Orban

Vera Jourova has seen others in her life. The Czech European Commissioner, whose head Viktor Orban called for after she called Hungary a “sick democracy”, was not impressed and, with the support of her colleagues and President Ursula von der Leyen, presented Wednesday, as if nothing had happened, its report on the rule of law in the 27 countries of the Union.

Born under an authoritarian regime, Vera Jourova, 56, was the victim, in 2006, of a cabal in her country which led her to spend more than a month in preventive detention following a slanderous denunciation . Also, when it comes to defending the independence of justice against political influence or mafia influences, the native of Trebic speaks from experience. The fight against arbitrariness is not extinguished in Europe provided that the Enlightenment remains on.

A slow and subtle degradation

This is the whole point of this new instrument: an annual report which will review the progress and imperfections of European democracies, based on factual elements verified with the Member States. This report must serve as a basis for a constructive dialogue so that, little by little, with the help of national parliaments and civil society, the situation improves everywhere. Let us get on well: it is not a question of denouncing dreadful dictatorships à la Castro or à la Pinochet, but of underlining the slow and often subtle degradations brought to the rule of law by governments. European democracies will never be immune to the temptation to discipline judges whose decisions displease, hamper the work of journalists, limit checks and balances in the balance of power and give in to the financial pressure of corruption . Among the countries most criticized by the report are Poland, Bulgaria, Malta, Romania… and of course Hungary.

In presenting her report, Commissioner Jourova did not want to further argue with Budapest, but she quoted a sentence from the late Vaclav Havel, the great Czech writer (and ex-president), which was obviously intended for Viktor Orban: “The Democracy’s natural flaw is that it is extremely difficult to exercise in good faith when it allows those who do not take it seriously to do virtually whatever they see fit. “And the commissioner added a postscript to Havel’s quote:” This also concerns those who wish to abuse it. “

Corruption in Hungary not tackled enough

“There is no new information, everything is already in the public domain,” said Commissioner Reynders, in charge of Justice, alongside Commissioner Jourova in this work worthy of Sisyphus. “The merit of this report is to collect information and provide an overview. »Civil society was consulted and more than two hundred contributions informed the rapporteurs.

Naturally, the report on Hungary did not please Viktor Orban. He had the opportunity to read it upstream like the twenty-six other heads of the executive in order to provide details and factual corrections if necessary. The summary of the shortcomings of Hungarian democracy focuses on corruption. It is also on this point that Orban’s opposition to power is sharpening its attacks. This is a point of weakness because the entourage of the Prime Minister has grown rich in a very short time.

Germany stumbles on financial conditionality

This doesn’t mean that Hungary is doing nothing against corruption, but it chooses its targets and ignores others. Thus, the system focuses on small fry, and the procedures, more and more numerous (from 984 in 2016 to 2046 in 2018), do not always succeed. Moreover, the number of convicts is decreasing (351 in 2016 to 250 in 2018). No investigation was launched against the senior officials or their immediate entourage. Party funding, patronage, nepotism, porosity with the business world, regulation of lobbying are not taken into account in the anti-corruption policy, notes the Commission report. However, Hungary is the country which has recorded the highest number of investigations (43) from Olaf (the European Anti-Corruption Office). Where do European funds go?

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This is the question that haunts European officials these days when they are drafting the budgetary clause on respect for the rule of law which should, in the future, condition the payment of European funds. Viktor Orban has indicated that the wording of the clause does not suit him as it is. The German president has formulated a new proposal which relaxes the criteria. The term “generalized failure” of the rule of law has disappeared. The decision to suspend the disbursement of funds had to be taken by qualified majority whereas, in the previous wording, the proposal to suspend the disbursements by the Commission was taken except when a qualified majority opposed it. The thorny negotiations are underway, but worries the Germans, who come up against the opposing demands of Hungary and Poland on one side, frugal countries and the European Parliament on the other. The Hungarians and the Poles threaten to derail the adoption of the European recovery plan if the rule of law were to become an instrument of control of Hungarian political choices. From all sides, we are raising the stakes …

Media under influence

Media pluralism is also a problem in Hungary. There is indeed a Media Council, but its five members were appointed by the ruling party. A conglomerate of 470 media favorable to the government was exempted, by a government decree, from a review by the Competition Authority, considering that it was a “merger of strategic importance”. The Constitutional Court was of no help in this case by rejecting the opposition’s appeal on June 25. In addition, the government would exercise indirect control through attribution of public advertising campaign to media conciliatory with the power. The report also refers to systematic intimidation and obstruction of the independent press.

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Moreover, the jurisprudence of this Constitutional Court is questionable. It declared illegal a preliminary ruling decision to the European Court of Justice, thereby hampering the interpretation of European law by the CJEU. The Commission report considers that a disciplinary procedure is likely to fall on individual judges who express the desire for a preliminary ruling.

Note that the rule of law report, presented on Wednesday, will not be used for the assessment of states in the management of European funds. This will be the subject of “another report”, said Vera Jourova.

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