The European Parliament on Wednesday voted to punish Hungary for cracking down on democratic institutions, setting off a process that could ultimately lead to the suspension of the country’s voting rights in the European Union.
It is the first time that the parliament has launched the EU disciplinary process against a member state, known as Article 7, and it exposes the deep unease in parts of Europe about the policies pursued by Hungary’s hardline prime minister, Viktor Orbán.
The vote comes nine months after the European Commission used its power to launch the same process against Poland. The rarely invoked process is designed to prevent member states from breaching the EU’s “core values.”
Wednesday’s vote in Strasbourg, France, followed a report from Dutch Green member of the European Parliament Judith Sargentini that raised concerns about Hungary’s erosion of democracy in recent years, including crackdowns on migrants, the media and academic institutions.
The Commission has already started a rule-of-law procedure, called Article 7, against Poland because of concerns over the independence of the country’s judiciary. It could ultimately end up suspending Warsaw’s right to vote in the EU.
The European Parliament will vote later on Wednesday whether to start the same process against Hungary.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to propose today (12 September) a bigger role for the euro in international markets and more efficient decision-making in EU foreign policy in his state of the union speech, European diplomats said.
According to officials, Juncker would like to achieve three goals before the European elections next May: the ratification of the EU-Japan trade deal; a political agreement among member states on the multi-annual financial framework (the EU´s long-term budget); and to start breaking the dollar’s dominance in global markets.
The European Commission’s push to rewrite the EU’s Third Gas Directive is doomed, but Brussels has not withdrawn its proposal because it is preparing a “grand bargain” with Russia, experts told a EURACTIV event on Wednesday (5 September).
The European Commission, with backing from Poland, has tabled an amendment to the European gas directive, aimed at stopping construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
But the amendment is blocked in the EU Council of Ministers, where it is unable to gather a qualified majority from the 28 EU member states.
Speaking at a EURACTIV event on Wednesday (5 September), gas market experts said it was unlikely that the amendment will be withdrawn, because the Commission is preparing a “grand bargaining” with Russia.
What could happen now?
Under an EU rule called Article 7, breaching the union’s founding principles can lead to the suspension of a member state’s rights as a punitive measure.
However, Hungary is currently facing “preventative” measures, which the parliament says are designed to avoid sanctions entirely.
The BBC Reality Check team has explained the Article 7 process in detail. Broadly, the decision on Hungary will now be referred to the heads of the 28 EU member states to consider.
However, because this step has never been taken before, it is not clear what will happen next, or when.
Suspension of Hungary’s voting rights is the most serious possible consequence – but is considered unlikely.
Poland is also facing disciplinary proceedings, launched by the European Commission in December last year. The case has yet to reach the European Parliament.
What has the reaction been?
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reacted angrily to the vote, calling it the “petty revenge” of “pro-immigration” politicians.
Some politicians from other countries also defended Mr Orban’s government. Britain’s Nigel Farage, a pro-Brexit MEP, wrote that the decision demonstrated “the authoritarian grip of the EU”.
According to a senior government spokesman, the UK prime minister told her counterparts that Brexit was a “uniquely complicated” challenge, but one that could be completed on time.
She said there was no question of the UK seeking to extend the negotiations beyond 29 March 2019, as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is calling for, thus delaying the moment of departure.
She told them she has “put forward serious proposals and the onus on all of us is to get this done”.
Her three priorities, she said, were protecting Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, safeguarding trading links with the EU and maintaining a close security relationship with the EU to deal with common threats.
“No, no, no!” That is the response that you get when you ask EU players whether they can abandon the principles that are determining their stance on Brexit.
Here’s the thing. The disagreements aren’t over the detail, it’s not the practicalities that are really the problem but the principles.
Officials involved privately admit there is little chance that the solution is going to be found in any of the technical solutions, there is going to have to be a big political move on one side, or moves on both sides to be able to get to a deal.
And despite protestations from Brexiteers about how Ireland has come to dominate the talks, it has become whether they like it or not, the real life expression of Brexit’s bigger conundrums.
The talks were always going to be complicated. But summit after summit, the biggest obstacle remains what happens there after we leave the EU.
Because after Brexit the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island becomes the line between the huge European trading club and a country that’s on the outside.
No one wants there to be anything that really changes or disrupts life on either side. But Brexit is such a major change that everything simply can’t remain the same. The two sides in the negotiations seem stuck in a deep clash over how to handle the change.
Because the EU has more power in the negotiations it’s often assumed that the UK will end up having to ditch its resistance. And with some soft soaping from Brussels around the language of their proposals Theresa May will just about be able to swallow more compromises.
When Marco Minniti took over as Italy interior minister in December 2016, migration was a continuing crisis. In just three years, more than half a million migrants had reached Italy after setting off from Libya by boat.
Italians angrily demanded action from the centre-left government. The new minister decided to make use of his long background in intelligence and security work.
His plan was simple: co-opt Libyan tribal chiefs into stopping migrant smugglers and traffickers.
His first official visit to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, was in January 2017 to meet President Serraj – and the other authorities.
“The desert tribes are fundamental,” he says. “There’s only so much technology and military resources you can deploy, but if you don’t have the tribes, the Sahara is difficult to control.”
By the summer of 2017, Marco Minniti had a deal in place with Libyan chiefs.
“We signed a small pact,” he says.
“I asked them to break any links with the traffickers – and I said that Italy, Europe, and the international community were ready to help their communities financially.”
The deal had instant results.
The Libyan coast guard began to intercept migrant boats, and numbers on this route fell by around 80%. But the Libya-Italy route remains incredibly dangerous.
As a Tripoli cease-fire brokered by the U.N. threatens to fracture, food for the detainees there is dwindling. Libyan officials have complained that both they and the migrants have been largely abandoned by Europe. In the Janzour detention center, around 900 people were crammed into a space intended for half that many.
“We have difficulties in providing subsistence, difficulties in providing food, and difficulties in sheltering them,” said 1st Lt. Jamal Hussain. The government, which runs the facility, refused to allow an Associated Press journalist to speak to detainees.
This month the U.N. broke its silence over Europe’s policy of allowing the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants, saying it was untenable and putting thousands of people at risk of being jailed indefinitely in inhumane conditions. Detailing allegations of torture, sexual abuse, violence and “nightmarish” conditions, the U.N. refugee agency said Libya didn’t remotely meet the criteria “as a place of safety.”
In all, around 56,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are registered with the U.N. in Libya and neighboring Niger, which have accepted millions of euros in exchange for European promises to evaluate a portion for resettlement.
But, critics say, resettlement simply isn’t happening. A total of 657 people had left for resettlement in Europe as of last week, out of 3,886 slots promised over a year ago in 11 European countries and Canada.
Meanwhile, the Libyan and Greek detention centers have continued to fill, with migrants and refugees waiting a year or more for a decision in their cases. That, however, suits many anti-immigrant populists in Europe just fine.
“Until the message is made abundantly clear that illegal economic migrants will not be processed, that boats will be turned back, thousands and thousands more sad and desperate lives will be lost in vain, all for your feelings of virtue,” said Nathan Gill, a British member of the European parliament, accusing fellow legislators last week of being soft on immigration. “You’re not really helping people.”
If migrants have made it to the Greek island of Lesbos, they’re already one step ahead of those trapped in Libya. But conditions are hardly better. Raw sewage flows out the main entrance in Moria, garbage piles up outside the containers where migrants sleep.
As of last week, 73,696 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea this year along with over 11,000 land arrivals, compared with 128,993 sea arrivals in 2017 and 298,663 in 2016.
European leaders in June proposed creating centers to process migrants in North Africa but those governments quickly rejected the idea. The EU now is pitching plans of an upgraded border force.
Last week, Austria and Italy’s right-wing interior ministers called for shipboard screenings of migrants on the Mediterranean, raising new questions about whose ships and where — given that Italy has blocked humanitarian groups from docking with migrants rescued at sea, favoring Libyan boats instead.
Riccardo Magi, an Italian lawmaker from the tiny left-wing +Europa party, said Libya’s deteriorating crisis has risked sending migrants and refugees on ever smaller boats into greater danger.
The European Commission’s new proposal, discussed at Wednesday and Thursday’s (September 19 and 20) informal Salzburg summit, asserts that strengthening the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) will lead to the effective management of migration flows and thus help to guarantee a high level of security within the Union.
On that basis, the proposal is – according to the commission – “a key condition to preserve the Schengen area”.
Such a rationale for reforming Frontex is flawed.
It mistakenly buys into the discourse expounded at the (extreme) right of the political spectrum. Tying the “preservation of Schengen” in with conflated ideas of border security is a self-defeating strategy.
The real preservation of Schengen calls for a more responsible engagement with the EU’s free movement achievements, especially from the part of those member states who continue to uphold unjustified internal border checks.
Brexit hitting snags.
h/t Digital mix guy