European Commission says it has ‘full trust’ in Věra Jourová after Orbán demands resignation

Viktor Orbán was angered by comments made in an interview by the Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency, in which she described Hungary as a “sick democracy.”
Scales of Justice

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Sep 2020

Věra Jourová, the Czech-born official in charge of the Commission's work on values, transparency and upholding the rule of law, accused Orbán of building a “sick democracy” in an interview with German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.

In response, Orbán wrote to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen demanding the resignation of Jourová and saying that her comments “prevent any meaningful dialogue” between her and Hungary.

On Wednesday, a Commission press officer for Justice and Consumers, Equality and Rule of Law issued a statement to this site, which said, “We have seen the letter by Prime Minister Orbán and, of course, we will reply to it. President von der Leyen works closely with Vice-President Jourová on the rule of law and the Vice-President has the President’s full trust.”

She added, “Our concerns when it comes to the rule of law in Hungary are well known. They will be addressed in our Rule of Law Report. In this report, we assessed the situation in all Member States. The report is meant to be an instrument for dialogue with Member States and the European Parliament on the rule of law.”

Asked about the Orbán letter on Wednesday, Jourová told reporters, “The Commission will reply in due time. I am grateful to Ursula von der Leyen for her support on Tuesday but I cannot predict what will be in the letter. I have no further comment.”

“Věra Jourová is only fulfilling her duties and responsibilities as Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency. Any kind of pressure or blackmail from a government is unacceptable” Iratxe García Pérez, S&D Group leader

Several MEPs have also given their reaction to the Orbán letter to this website, with S&D group leader Iratxe García Pérez saying, “Věra Jourová is only fulfilling her duties and responsibilities as Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency. Any kind of pressure or blackmail from a government is unacceptable.”

She added, “We stand by the Commission and its College members. The Treaty establishes that the Commission is the guardian of the treaties, including Article 7.”

Luxembourg EPP member Christophe Hansen told this site, “Jourová gave a lengthy interview in Der Spiegel, in which among others she argued that the upcoming Annual Rule of Law Report will disarm precisely the sort of ‘whataboutism’ that this attack is an example of.”

“It is painfully clear that the Hungarian Government's attack seeks to distract from the key issues Jourová rightly pinpointed in the interview. I expect from the Commission President that she will stand behind her Commissioner and not allow the precedent of Governments meddling in the composition of her College to take hold.”

“It is also no surprise that this attack comes right at the moment when a Rule of Law conditionality mechanism for the European budget is under full discussion. Never before was so much taxpayer's money at stake, never before was the Rule of Law in the Union in such a deplorable state.”

He concluded, “This once again shows that the Parliament is right to hold out for a credible and efficient mechanism.”

“The Commission will reply in due time. I am grateful to Ursula von der Leyen for her support on Tuesday but I cannot predict what will be in the letter. I have no further comment” Věra Jourová, Commission Vice-President

French Greens deputy Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield told this site, “We stand in solidarity with Jourová in the fight for our fundamental EU rights and values following Orbán’s letter. The EU stands for the rule of law and democracy. We will not be intimidated by Orbán’s bullying tactics.”

“We have consistently called upon Jourová for action at the EU level on upholding the rule of law in Hungary. Back in April, von der Leyen voiced concern about the situation in Hungary, but since then we have not been convinced that the Commission is prepared to stand up to Orbán’s systemic destruction of EU values.”

She added, “It is our hope that the publication of the Rule of Law report will be a turning point for decisive and concrete action against a decade of backsliding on the rule of law, media freedom and fundamental rights in Hungary.”

Elsewhere, Denis MacShane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, said, “Orbán becomes more childish as he advances in years. Insulting a European Commissioner when he knows perfectly well she cannot answer back is the act of a bully who does not want to grow up.”

“It further raises the question of why Hungary wants to stay in the European Union when Orbán opposes everything Europe stands for. Perhaps he can forge an axis with Boris Johnson into a Brexit-Budapest anti-EU alliance.”

Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, an NGO, also told this website, “For several years, freedom of expression has been under pressure in Hungary.”

“It further raises the question of why Hungary wants to stay in the European Union when Orbán opposes everything Europe stands for. Perhaps he can forge an axis with Boris Johnson into a Brexit-Budapest anti-EU alliance” Denis MacShane, former UK Europe Minister

“In May of this year, the European Court of Human Rights found that Budapest had violated the freedom of some media people when parliamentary speaker and Fidesz MP László Kövér indefinitely banned a number of journalists from the parliament building in 2016. The Court found that this interference had not been “necessary in a democratic society” and was a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention.”

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld said that the EPP, the biggest political group in Parliament, “will be silent [on the letter] as it always is.”

The EPP has been criticised in the past for its links to Orbán’s Fidesz party. However, it has suspended the Fidesz party over concerns about the rule of law in Hungary and anti-Brussels rhetoric.

This has meant that Orbán cannot participate in the meetings of EPP leaders ahead of European summits and Fidesz members cannot take part in the political assembly of the party.

Many centre-right MEPs have expressed concerns about the situation in Hungary but prefer to see Fidesz remain within the EPP orbit rather than join a rival group.

Hungary has fallen foul of the EU in recent years over its alleged failure to uphold the rule of law and attacks on freedom of speech and the independence of the country’s judiciary.

“Jourová gave a lengthy interview in Der Spiegel, in which among others she argued that the upcoming Annual Rule of Law Report will disarm precisely the sort of ‘whataboutism’ that this attack is an example of” Christophe Hansen MEP

Earlier this year, Orbán’s government was granted extraordinary powers to rule by decree for an indefinite time.

Centre-right party leaders from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Norway subsequently said at the time that the new measures were a “clear violation of the founding principles of liberal democracy and European values.”

In April, von der Leyen said, “I am concerned that certain measures go too far, and I'm particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary.”

Orbán’s latest broadside against the EU came at the weekend when he criticised the bloc’s efforts to tackle the pandemic, saying Hungary will soon have a vaccine, adding, “Brussels estimates the vaccine will be ready by 2021, while the Americans expected it to be ready by the end of the year.”

Last week he also called on the EU to reverse its sanctions on Russia and pushed for a resumption of trade with Moscow.

Germany, current president of the EU, has proposed a so-called conditionality scheme that links access to EU money, including the €750bn recovery fund, to respecting the rule of law.

Hungary and Poland are currently being investigated by the EU for allegedly undermining the independence of the judiciary, media and non-governmental organisations.

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