The EU must act against Hungary and Poland

2 min
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The European Union often functions in practice as a club of states, but in the minds of its founding fathers (De Gasperi, Schuman, Adenauer, etc.) and in the letter of the treaties it is a community of values. Specifically, Article 2 states: "The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to member states in a society characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women". But what happens when one or more member states flout the letter of the treaty and pass homophobic laws, as Hungary and Poland have done, or limit judicial independence, as Poland has done? This Thursday, the European Commission launched legal action against these countries for violating the fundamental rights of the LGTBI community.

The procedure is long and cumbersome, and has been activated on many previous occasions without much effect. But what the European Union cannot do is to remain impassive in the face of the violation of the rights of European citizens, which is what is happening right now in Hungary and Poland. The system of guarantees and consensus with which the EU has functioned until now, and which means that major decisions have to be taken by consensus, has turned against Brussels in the face of right-wing, populist, anti-European governments such as those in Budapest and Warsaw. Europeans are astonished to see the reality: Brussels has very few effective tools to punish these governments, and there is no political will to activate the ones it has, such as Article 7, which would leave these countries without a vote.

But in the long run there will be no choice but to go further. The Polish government, for example, is now trying to destroy what is one of the pillars of European integration: the primacy of European law over national law through the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is therefore not only a question of violating the rights of a minority, but also of leaving it without the possibilities of legal defence that Europe offers. In reality, either passing homophobic legislation or not accepting the authority of the CJEU should be grounds for immediate expulsion from the EU. But the truth is that expulsion is not even provided for in the treaties. Right now Brussels is putting pressure on Hungary by freezing European reconstruction funds. This can be an effective measure, even though in the end it may end up hurting Hungarian citizens, many of whom are anti-Orbán and pro-European.

This is a complex debate, but it can be said that the EU's enemy is at home. It needs stronger legal instruments to defend itself when there are governments that do not respect the values of the EU. What is clear is that everything that has been done so far has been of little use.