MEPs increase their pressure on the EU to postpone Hungary’s presidency

In light of ongoing worries about Hungary’s democratic regress, MEPs have voted for a non-binding resolution that “questions” whether the country is qualified to hold the EU presidency in the second half of 2024.

The motion was approved on June 1 with 442 votes in favour, 144 against, and 33 abstentions. It was supported by parties from the centre-right to the extreme left.

According to the resolution’s intended language, MEPs questioned Hungary’s EU presidency “given non-compliance with” EU laws and values. Hungary has been under EU investigation since 2018 and had its EU funds suspended due to rule-of-law and corruption issues.

Additionally, the European Parliament urged EU leaders to find a “proper solution as soon as possible” and threatened to “take appropriate measures” if the council did not respond.

The latest attempt by a majority in the house to maintain political pressure on the European Commission and EU Council about Hungary is the push by parliament to stop or delay Hungary’s EU presidency.

Read also: Germany doubts Hungary’s ability to hold the EU presidency in 2024

The parliament recently passed another resolution declaring that Hungary was now a hybrid electoral autocracy and no longer a true democracy.

The centre-left Dutch politician Thijs Reuten said that “It would be a disaster if this country took control of the presidency and [Hungarian prime minister Viktor] Orban would push his agenda”, according to EUObserver.

Balazs Hidveghi, an MEP from Orban’s Fidesz party, claimed that attempts to delay Hungary’s presidency by MEPs violate EU legislation and that his nation was under attack because of the government’s stances on immigration, the war in Ukraine, and family policy.

In reality, there is little the parliament can do to stop Orban from becoming the bloc’s leader.

“The treaties and official texts are not very talkative [on this point],” remarked French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who is in charge of the case of Hungary’s democratic setback.

However, Liberal Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld stated that parliament isn’t powerless.

“We should strip this presidency of all the glitz and glamour. Rather than give an exclusive podium to Mr Orban and his sidekicks, we should give a podium to those who are silenced in Hungary,” she stated, arguing that NGOs, independent media, and researchers should be invited to Brussels in parallel.

Immediately following the 2024 European elections, when there are few meetings on legislation and the emphasis is on selecting the next Commission, Hungary will hold the six-month EU presidency.

The member states, not parliament, choose the order of the presidencies, with the most recent timetable being approved in 2016 (after the UK’s Brexit vote) until 2030.

Delaying the Hungarian president would be difficult politically and legally, and Judit Varga, Hungary’s justice minister, called the suggestion “complete nonsense” earlier this week.

Legal experts claim that although the order’s judgment can be changed, doing so requires a majority of member states to show solid political intent, which has yet to happen in the council.

Despite this, the Meijers Committee, a team of Dutch legal experts, claimed in a study that the council had several options for handling Hungary’s EU presidency.

One method is for other nations to take over conferences where the subjects are thought to interfere with Hungary’s rule-of-law investigations. However, that would necessitate a deal with Hungary, which, according to analysts, would take a lot of work to achieve.

Hungary’s turn can be delayed if the council decides that nations subject to the so-called Article 7 sanctions procedure for allegedly violating EU values are ineligible to serve as presidents of the EU.

It is politically challenging to change the council’s stance on Hungary’s or Poland’s (the country that follows Hungary on the presidential roster) stalled sanctions proceedings, though.

The council needs to “understand the seriousness of what is happening here,” according to Dutch MEP Reuten. The Dutch politician declared, “Hungary is no longer a democracy; there is a country sitting at the table which is not a democracy.”

Even though displeasure with Orban’s increasingly belligerent behaviour in the EU has grown, member state governments have been reluctant to meddle in one other’s systems of government.

The Hungarian premier has taken advantage of how the EU operates, which is predicated on compromise and getting everyone’s approval before making any decisions.

The European Council, the supreme political body of the union where presidents meet, is the sole institution that grants Mr Orban this power, according to Dutch MEP In ‘T Veld, who made the statement to reporters.

“It’s the veto; they all want to stay because they need Orban’s support for something else; it’s a perverse system; they all want to remain friends. They’re keeping him powerful”, she emphasised.

Read also: Hungary blocks €500 billion from fund that provides arms for Ukraine

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