Apart from the UK, it's fair to say Hungary is probably the European Union’s least favourite member state.
In September, the EU took the unprecedented step of triggering disciplinary measures against the country. This happens when it is believed that a member state has breached EU values, related to Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union- only used a few times before, with Hungary and Poland being the only two countries on the receiving end.
The September triggering of the article was a result of two things:
1. A controversial higher education bill, pushed by President Victor Orbán, meant that all universities run by foreign entities must have a base in their home country. It is believed this was meant to close down the small Central European University, a liberal university funded by billionaire George Soros.
2. A new rule placing tighter restrictions on NGOs, making them announce that they are funded from abroad and allowing the interior ministry to ban those deemed a threat to national security. Critics argue that it will be used to crack down on migrant supporting organisations, something in line with the President’s views on the current crisis.
Two thirds of MEPs must vote in favour of putting Hungary in the second round in the disciplinary process. The Conservative Party caused controversy by electing not to vote in favour of this, believing that the EU has no right to go into the domestic affairs of an individual member state- something that didn’t sit well with liberals and some minorities.
Hungary was backed up by Poland, the only other country to be on the end of Article 7. President of the European Union, Donald Tusk, discussed Poland leaving the EU on a recent trip to his home country. His bone of contention was a law that Poland rushed in before the EU could close in, one which forces Supreme Court judges to retire when they reach a certain age- roughly one third of them. Under its Rule of Law Framework, the EU has been investigating whether Poland has breached protocol by increasing its control of its judicial system.
But is it possible for the two countries to be kicked out of the EU? Under Article 7, rights of member states can be suspended, but they cannot be excluded- it has been suggested, but has failed to be included in any treaties. So no, it’s not possible.
Both countries will have support from each other and other sympathetic factions in the European Parliament. It is doubtful that this will go any further, but Britain’s exit from the European Union could potentially lend less support to the nations. If the EU pursues more liberalism and globalism, the question of sovereignty and domestic laws will be ever more important. Critics will argue against meddling in the internal affairs of members, but those in favour of closer integration may contend that it is only fair that countries must correctly adhere to regulations.
It is hard to decide whether this is due to the fact that both countries are ruled by conservative leaders, with Orbán being furthest on the EU. Internal affairs are complicated, because the idea that Poland and Hungary have violated democratic rights is objective, not subjective. Most will agree that these actions may not be ideal, but they may think that these countries have their own rights.
With this in mind, Poland and Hungary are safe - for now.
by Sarah Stook