Timmermans: EP debate on Hungary really about the rule of law

May 20, 2015

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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Strasbourg yesterday to take part in the European Parliament’s debate on his government’s propaganda concerning refugees and the death penalty. Orbán’s recent statements drew criticism from all sides of the European Parliament’s aisles, including the First Vice-President of the European Commission

Timmermans on Orbán’s death penalty statements

Frans Timmermans welcomed the European Parliament “putting this topic on the agenda, as two recent developments in Hungary have given rise to important concerns”. He explained that, according to Article 2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, it is explicitly and clearly prohibited for any person to be condemned to death or executed in the European Union.

Timmermans said that anything else would be contrary to the EU’s fundamental values and any reintroduction of the death penalty would therefore lead to application of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union.

“However, if the Hungarian government were to take steps to reintroduce the death penalty, let me underline that the Commission is ready to use immediately all the means at its disposal to ensure that Hungary – as well as any other Member State – complies with its obligations under Union law and respects the values of the Union enshrined in Article 2 TEU. We will not hesitate a second on such a case,” he said.

Timmermans on Hungary’s national consultation

Timmermans said the European Commission considers public consultation “an important tool for governments and other public authorities to develop policies that can count on support of the population,” but that “a public consultation based on bias, on leading and even misleading questions, on prejudice about immigrants can hardly be considered a fair and objective basis for designing sound policies. Framing immigration in the context of terrorism, depicting migrants as a threat to jobs and the livelihood of people, is malicious and simply wrong – it will only feed misconceptions and prejudice”.

Timmermans: This debate is really about the rule of law in Hungary

He continued: “You cannot use an electoral victory or economic success as a condition to say we don’t then have to observe the rule of law in a Member State. So I’m interested in hearing the stories about economic success and electoral success, but it’s neither here nor there in this debate, frankly. This debate is about the rule of law.

“Secondly, this debate in my perception is not about party politics. I respect everybody who wants to make it a debate about party politics but for the Commission it is not. And I’m sure that many in the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) group would be surprised to be categorised as left-wing today but this is a completely different matter.

“Thirdly, I’m all in favour of the freedom of speech. It is one of the fundamental values we cherish. It is one of the values Mr Orbán fought very hard for when he was in opposition against a communist regime before the end of the European divide, because that’s when I got to know him – and indeed he was a liberal at the time.

If you won’t do it then why even debate it?

“If you say: `I want to have a debate on abolishing the death penalty`, of course you can have a debate on that. But having a proposal on the abolishment of the death penalty would lead to a violation of international obligations and European obligations. It is incompatible with the membership of the European Union,” Timmermans said.

“Prime Minister Orbán has been very clear about this: he is never intending to put a proposal forward to do that. Well my political question is that, if you’re never intending to make a proposal, why then have a debate? What is then the reason for the debate?

Has Orbán forgotten about Europe receiving Hungarian refugees?

“Let me end on this, talking about the very difficult cases of refugees. I think in the country I know best – my country of origin, the Netherlands – Nemeth, Szass, Toth: these are now Dutch names. These are now names of sometimes the most successful people in the Dutch society.

“These are people, or children of people, who had to flee communist oppression when the Soviet Union crushed Hungary’s wish for liberty in 1956. And I as a Dutchman am proud to have Nemeth, Toth, Szass and all the other Hungarian names as part of the Netherlands, as part of our community of values.

“And they could do that because the Dutch people and many other Europeans in 1956 knew that the desperate people fleeing from Hungary needed a place to go. And they opened their hearts, they opened their homes, they opened their societies. And this is an example that we deserve to follow, this is an example that tells us what European values are really, really about,” Timmermans said in conclusion.

Referenced in this article:

European Parliament Plenary – Commission statement on the situation in Hungary First Vice-President Timmermans Strasbourg, europa.eu; 19 May 2015