Irish and Hungarian ministers clash over EU action on rule of law

Hungarian minister claims Hungary and Poland are being subjected to ‘political blackmailing’ by EU

Judit Varga, Hungarian Minister of Justice. File Photograph: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Judit Varga, Hungarian Minister of Justice. File Photograph: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

Hungary and Poland are being subjected to “political blackmailing” by the EU under the cover of arguments about the rule of law, the Hungarian minister for justice told an event organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin on Tuesday.

Judit Varga said the real difference between her country and most other EU member states was about political opinion on issues such as migration.

“In the end of the day there is a real difference, in that we don’t want to make Europe an immigrant continent.”

She was speaking at an online event which was also addressed by the Minister of State with responsibility for EU affairs Thomas Byrne.

Mr Byrne said Ireland strongly supported the new mechanism that links access to EU funds to adherence with the rule of law.

He said Ireland supported the continued article 7 procedures against Hungary and Poland, one of the most serious moves the union can take against member states. The procedures were invoked because of rule of law concerns.

Ms Varga said her country and Poland now had “real and pure experience” of how political these procedures could become.

She said there were “left-leaning” progressive governments in Europe and governments that were interested in preserving the status quo, with the latter in the minority.

The majority opinion should respect the minority opinion, which was a legitimate one, she said.

Mr Byrne said the Irish Government did not see the issue with Hungary as a political one, or one that was between progressives and “the right”, but rather as one that was absolutely essential to the EU.

“The whole point of the rule of law is that political opinion can exist within it, all shades of political opinion, provided we stick to the values of democracy in particular, respect for the courts, and free media.”

Ms Varga was asked about reports that her government might take action against social media companies on the issue of how they manage their content.

She said that the “seemingly arbitrary censorship” that existed had to be looked at, and that this was an issue about which other European countries had concerns.

Mr Byrne said he disagreed fundamentally with Ms Varga if she was saying that right-wing thought was not promoted on social media.The evidence from the United States appeared to be the opposite, he said.

There were serious rule of law issues across the world, even in the United States where there had been an “invasion of the Capitol Building”.

It was to the EU’s credit, he said, that it was “doing something about it.”

Ms Varga said Ireland and Hungary were in agreement on the constituent parts of the rule of law, such as democracy, peace, and equality before the law.

What was happening within the article 7 procedures, however, was not a dialogue about the rule of law, but “ideological or political blackmailing”, she argued.

The real issue was differences of political opinion, not the rule of law, and this was especially so in relation to migration.

“We are talking about concepts, about the future of Europe. We don’t think that the continent should get rid of its origins, or let’s say, why it became the best place to work. It should be kept for member states to decide with whom they want to live”.

Democracy was an important value and if different choices are made in politics, they should not be given the name of rule of law issues, so blackmail could be used to change those positions.

The EU Commission’s report on the rule of law, published last September, was “invalid”, as there was no treaty basis for its opinion to prevail on the matter, she claimed.