Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga denounced the EU’s disciplinary procedures against Hungary as a ‘witch hunt’ after a hearing on Monday in Brussels where she had been invited to face questions about the perceived erosion of the rule of law in the country.
The Article 7 procedure, which can theoretically result in a suspension of a country’s voting rights, was launched by the European Parliament against Hungary in September 2018. MEPs expressed concerns for EU freedoms and values in Hungary, in areas such as the press, universities, minority and migrant rights, as well as the independence of the judiciary.
The Hungarian government released a 158 page rejection of the European Parliament’s resolution on Monday, calling it “politically motivated, biased and factually incorrect on many aspects”, and its conclusions “unjustified”.
Upon arrival in Brussels, Judit Varga said “I have come here to defend Hungary, and I hope that the Member States abide by the law, I hope that double standards are avoided, I hope they show that we are not facing a political witch hunt.”
Representatives of ten EU governments posed questions to Varga during an eight-hour long, closed-door hearing. Dutch and German representatives asked about the high level of corruption in Hungary and why the country’s position in international organisations is deteriorating. Varga said that the situation is poorly understood by outside observers and that Hungarian conflict of interest rules meet European standards.
The Swedish, Danish, Spanish and French governments raised the issue of press freedom and how it came about that 80 percent of the Hungarian press has been organised into a single government-run foundation (KESMA). Varga denied that the government exerts undue influence over the media, which she said enjoys freedoms that are guaranteed by law and overseen by an independent authority.
Varga also defended the independence of Hungary’s courts and academic institutions, as well as Budapest’s anti-immigration policies.
No eastern European Members States participated in the hearing, buoying hopes in Budapest that the process may be dead in the water as it would require more than ten votes in the Council to initiate the next phase of the Article 7 procedure.
“It is in the interest of the entire EU to close this unfortunate chapter and to focus on the great challenges ahead,” Varga tweeted after her hearing. “Once again, we are pilloried for our rejection of mass immigration,”
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP with the Liberal group, responded: “You are not put ‘on pillory’ for rejecting mass immigration, but for violating human rights, destroying the rule of law and non-compliance with EU law. Don’t play the martyr.”
The proceedings against Hungary and Poland are at a preliminary stage. The second phase, which can lead to the withdrawal of a country’s voting rights in the European ministerial meetings, requires a unanimous vote of the other countries, and Budapest and Warsaw have clearly announced their intention to block any sanctions.