Calls to prevent Orban from taking the EU presidency

The recent Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s insidious meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Beijing on October 17 may preempt Hungary’s scheduled presidency of the EU Council.

Given Orban’s already infamous tendency to implement authoritarian methods of governance in Hungary and favor Putin’s regime on the international stage, it is obvious what kind of policy he will promote if he takes the EU presidency.

Jaap Hoeksma, a philosopher of law, authored an article for EUObserver that calls on the European Parliament to show “it matters” that its rule supports democracy on the eve of elections in June 2024.

The mechanisms and limitations of EU governance

However, the legal mechanisms available for the European Parliament to affect the internal processes of the European Council have limitations.

In the core domain of the EU, its nations pool sovereignty to achieve shared goals. They want their union to provide its citizens with an environment of liberty, security, and justice. Both the member states and the EU must operate as constitutional democracies in order to fulfill this critical goal.

The European Union is a democratic union of democratic nations for its residents. The European Parliament represents the Union’s citizens in this field. The European Parliament exercises legislative authority and controls sovereignty on behalf of the member states, while the commission exercises it.

According to European Court of Justice case law, the Commission has the right to defend the Union’s construction and values against violations by its member states.

Orban’s ‘illiberal democracy’ impact

Hungary freely joined the EU on May 1, 2004.

Budapest agreed to sign the Treaty of Lisbon, which turned the Union into a value-driven organization of states and citizens, in 2007. Since Lisbon, member states have been required to meet the same democratic and legal criteria as their union.

Orbán’s government has been pursuing confrontation with the EU over the basis of the Union since his widely known ‘illiberal democracy’ speech in 2014. Orbán claims that the EU is essentially an association of states since the EU’s formation as a democratic union of democratic states is incompatible with his idea of illiberal democracy.

The Hungarian Prime Minister wants to have the ability to spend EU funds as he sees fit, free of ‘Brussels’ oversight. The ECJ has categorically rejected his objections to the implementation of the rule of law mechanism.

This construction only applies to the areas where member states have agreed to delegate sovereignty to the Union, not to international affairs.

Despite the EU’s goal of speaking with one voice in its external affairs, member states have kept their sovereignty in this area. The Lisbon Treaty maintains its right of veto.

Reproaching Orbán’s Beijing meeting with Putin at the EU summit in October 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron carefully hinted at the current circumstances by telling Orban that, while Hungary enjoys sovereignty in foreign affairs, it should not undermine EU policies in pursuing national interests.

The pig in a poke in terms of Orban’s pre-empt from Council

As Orbán’s struggle against ‘Brussels’ goes unabated, the European Parliament passed a resolution in June to prohibit the Hungarian government from assuming the European Council chair.

Although Article 236 TFEU does not provide for a role for the European Parliament in this regard, MEPs can take the moral high ground by claiming that an illiberal leader cannot lead a democratic union of democratic states.

By crossing the line between disloyalty and treason, Orbán may have helped the European Parliament achieve its goal of stopping Hungary from taking over the EU presidency. Through his anti-EU and pro-Kremlin statements, Orban has provoked criticism from many EU members, from Baltic states to two heavyweights, France and Germany.

Based on Article 236 TFEU, which allows the European Council to change the configuration of the council presidency with a qualified majority, the European Parliament’s main objective should be to persuade member states to remove the Hungarian Presidency.

MEPs should use their power over national governments and legislatures to achieve this goal.

If this tactic fails to achieve the intended results, parliament has the ‘nuclear option’ of refusing to work with the Council during Hungary’s presidency. A democratic union of nearly 30 democratic member countries should not be hostage to the whims of a single intolerant despot.

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