France has so far been the only EU country to raise concerns about the constitutional changes that took effect on 1 January. The other 26 nations and the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) – to which Fidesz belongs – maintain a ‘deafening silence’ on the issue.
Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), called for sanctions against Hungary like those used against Austria's rightist leader Jörg Haider in 2000 (see background). Under the Lisbon Treaty, the proposed sanctions could in fact be even tougher.
“The treaties foresee a procedure to deal with such situations," Verhofstadt said. "Unfortunately, the time has come to apply it to protect democracy and fundamental rights in Hungary and in the EU today, and avoid setting a dangerous precedent as well as a bad example for aspirant countries wishing to join the Union.”In the Austrian case, the EU governments imposed sanctions under rules that allow them to act in case of risk of human rights violations, rather than their actual occurrence.
Serious human rights breaches by a member state can result in a suspension or loss of voting rights in the Council under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Critics say the constitutional changes and other laws enacted under Orbán's 2-year-old government weaken the independence of the judiciary, news media and the central bank.
Socialists also seek action
The party of European Socialists (PES) called on the EPP - which has the controlling bloc in the European Parliament - to suspend Fidesz.
“The silence on the situation from the European Peoples Party, who count Fidesz as a full member, is becoming deafening,” said PES General Secretary Philip Cordery.
He said Fidesz should be suspended from its ranks “until such time as Hungarian democratic institutions regain their independence and their integrity”.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is a vice president of the EPP and the party’s response to the situation is keenly anticipated.
EPP to issue statement later this week
A spokesman for the EPP refused to comment to EurActiv about either the position of Fidesz or Orbán within the party. He said that the EPP was still considering the text of Hungary’s new constitution. A statement would be delivered before the end of the week by EPP President Wilfried Maartens, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, France is the only member state to have made a public statement on the issue. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told national television on Tuesday (3 January) that “the situation is problematic in Hungary”.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is of Hungarian origin.
Juppé said that France had asked the European Commission to take the necessary steps to ensure that fundamental principles and common values of the European Union be respected everywhere, Hungary included.
Hungary’s Foreign Ministry hit back the same day, saying: “Juppé’s comment is at odds with the traditional friendship between the two countries.”