Hungary clashes with the European Commission on interview on rule of law
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Hungary clashes with the European Commission on interview on rule of law

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban at the Special European Council in July 2020, credit: EU

Tension between Hungary and the Commission raised today following a recent interview in German magazine Der Spiegel where Vice-President Vera Jourova claimed that Hungary is building a “sick democracy”.

In a letter today (29 September) to Commission President von der Leyen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called for Jourova’s resignation over what he referred to as “derogatory public statements” about Hungary. Orban also wrote that Hungary would suspend all bilateral political contacts with Jourova.

According to Orban, her statements were a “direct political attack against the democratically elected government of Hungary”.

Jourova was first asked by Der Spiegel if she considered Germany a rule of law state (Rechtsstaat in German). “If I haven’t missed something crucial in the past few days, then: Yes, Germany is still a rule of law state,” Jourova replied.

She was apparently less diplomatic in her replies on the state of rule law in Hungary, an issue of serious concern to the EU. At today’s virtual press conference, a Commission spokesperson confirmed that the letter had arrived and will receive a reply. “The President works closely with Commissioner Jourova and she has her full trust,” the spokesperson said.

“There are different ways to address our concerns,” he added. “The Commission stands ready to for a dialogue with Hungary. Our doors are open.”

Prime-Minister Orban himself has in the past described Hungary as an “illiberal democracy”. Is being an illiberal democracy good enough for an EU member state?

“This expression doesn’t belong to the vocabulary that the Commission has developed and is using on the rule of law in the EU,” deputy chief spokesperson Dana Spinant replied to a question from The Brussels Times. “Our position on the rule of law in all member states will be presented in the Commission’s first Rule of Law report on Wednesday (30 September)”.

By “illiberal democracy” is meant a governing system in which although democratic elections take place, citizens are prevented from influencing the government between the elections because of suppression of fundamental rights such as press freedom, limitations on civil society  and the undermining of the independence of courts and other institutions.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times