The Hour of the Parliament

European Diary, 6.10.2020: Yesterday the European Parliament debated the present report on the dismantling of legal principles in some member states. A turbulent discussion.
For months, the European Parliament and the Commission have been struggling to find a clear line towards those European states that abandon the rule of law on the way to “illiberal democracy”, i.e. states without a free press, without an independent judiciary, without protection of minorities from arbitrariness, discrimination or incitement, without the political corrective of an alert civil society – states in which the people are only called to the ballot box to confirm their leaders in office, who in any case announce even before the elections that they will not resign if they lose.
At the end of September, the European Commission published its first EU-wide report on the situation of the rule of law in the individual member states, which, as expected, is worrying. The report points not only to the growing state “control” of the press and judiciary in countries such as Hungary and Poland, but also to considerable deficits in areas such as fighting corruption or the separation of powers, including in other states such as Bulgaria, Malta, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia and Romania. Commission President von der Leyen made every effort to remain diplomatic. “Although we in the EU have very high standards with regard to the rule of law, there is a need for action at various points. One would “continue to work on solutions with the member states”. Vice President Véra Jourová had already become clearer in a previous interview with Spiegel, describing Hungary as a “sick democracy”, which immediately prompted Orban to demand her resignation.
In the course of the EU Commission’s 1.8 billion euro deal, which aims to revive the European economy and in particular the most severely affected states after the Corona collapse, the Commission and Parliament had also promised an effective mechanism to demand compliance with the rule of law. Poland and Hungary made it clear from the outset what they thought of this – and threatened to block economic aid in the Council. Admittedly, they themselves would also benefit greatly from such aid. A week ago, the German Council Presidency presented a compromise proposal that looks more like a toothless tiger. Cuts in EU financial aid would thus only be possible after it had been established that violations of the rule of law also have a direct impact on how EU money is handled. The EU Commission wanted to take a tougher approach and make access to funding generally dependent on compliance with the rule of law. But even the German compromise proposal, which would probably remain completely ineffective in case of doubt, naturally fails due to the veto from Budapest and Warsaw.
But the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Finland also vote against the German mediation. For them, the proposal understandably does not go far enough.
And so the EU Parliament is now finally getting ready to get involved in this issue.
Katarina Barley, the German deputy president of the EU parliament, explains to Deutschlandfunk radio that the EU does not want to be blackmailed by Hungary and Poland and their threat to blow the entire budget. “If we give up the rule of law now, then we will have conditions in the EU for the next seven years that our citizens do not want either, because our tax money will then go to regimes like Orbán’s and Kaczynski’s, which above all shovel money into their own pockets but convert their countries into democracies that no longer have anything to do with the values of the EU.” After all, Hungary would be financially dependent on the EU.
In yesterday’s parliamentary debate the Slovakian member of parliament and parliamentary rapporteur on democracy and the rule of law Michal Simecka gave a moving speech. Hungary is no longer a democracy, and Poland is on the way to that. Bulgaria is also on a dangerous path, he said, where people have been protesting unsuccessfully for three months against the rampant corruption of the government. He himself had already experienced before 1989 what it means when people are arbitrarily arrested or lose their jobs because they speak their minds. The image of the EU as a “guarantor of democracy” was severely damaged, he said. Only “better monitoring” as demanded by the EU Commission was not enough. The “rule of law” must also be able to be enforced. The governments criticized in the report reacted differently. While Bulgaria and Romania announced further reforms in line with the EU recommendations, Poland and Hungary attacked the EU head-on and rejected all criticism.

Tomorrow the report will be voted on in the Parliament. A broad agreement is expected. Then it will become clear whether the Parliament will stand firm against the European Council, in which countries like Poland or Hungary threaten with their veto right against the aid budget.
On the Internet, the most loyal friends of Orban’s “new democracy” are already on the move, above all Henryk Broder, who is allowed to make fun of the “dominatrix” Barley in the right-wing blogger paradise “Axis of Good”. Sexism must not be missing in this male association.