Hungarian Conservative

Rule of Law Report 2023: While Hungary Is Under Fire, Do Its Neighbours Feel the Heat?

Jean-François Millet: Noonday Rest (1866)
Jean-François Millet: Noonday Rest (1866)
Wikimedia Commons
While Hungary has been declared to be the rule of law black sheep not only of the Carpathian Basin, but of the whole of Europe, Brussels has in fact found plenty of issues with other Members States as well in its annual report — only those are never highlighted by the EU bureaucracy or the mainstream media.

At the beginning of July, the European Commission released its fourth annual Rule of Law Report and, as expected, Hungary has not been spared—although we have also received some (indirect) praise. ‘While rule of law concerns remain in some EU Member States, this report has become a key driver for reforms to improve the situation. 65 per cent of last year’s recommendations were fully or partially implemented. This shows that Member States are making considerable efforts to follow up on the previous year’s recommendations. As reforms to improve the rule of law framework are time-consuming, this represents significant progress in just one year. However, systemic concerns remain with regard to some Member States,’ reads the general guidance in the Commission’s communication.

As to the part of the report on Hungary, there is criticism concerning the lack of transparency in the allocation of cases in lower courts, and it is also mentioned that only moderate progress has been made in relation to asset declarations.

This latter comment is particularly odd considering that the Hungarian parliament had at one point adopted the asset declaration system used in the EP, and then, as Brussels did not like that solution either, we reverted to the old regime, with some modifications.

In light of Brussels constantly holding up Hungary as the quasi-rogue member state, it is worth taking a look at what the report says about Romania and Slovakia, Hungary’s neighbours. (It is striking that while the mainstream press and left-liberal politicians, who jump on the Hungarian government if they discover the slightest of rebukes in the rule of law report’s chapter on Hungary, most often than not elegantly ignore the damning findings about other EU Member States.)

Serious Issues in Romania

It we take a closer look at the rule of law report’s chapter on Romania, we may discover some very interesting observations on the part of the Commission, for instance, revealing facts about our eastern neighbour’s justice system. The report found, for instance, that in Romania disciplinary sanctions were put in place repeatedly against certain judges in an opaque manner.

The report also points out that the enforcement of lobbying rules for members of the government still needs to be improved and that rules on lobbying by parliamentarians have still not been adopted. Another interesting finding is that, according to the Commission,

there have been no positive changes in promoting the independence of public media.

According to the report, the transparency of the funding of the media, especially in terms of audio-visual media providing air time to political parties, has not improved at all.

A particularly piquant part of the report is where it says that the situation regarding threats against and the harassment and violence against journalists remains a problem.

Although the situation of civil society organisations in Romania has improved, according to the findings of the College of Commissioners, but is far from being satisfactory, as they continue to face challenges in accessing public funding and due to the unpredictable implementation of legislation.

The Commission also recommends that Romania take action, in particular at the operational level, to address remaining concerns regarding the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in the judiciary, including corruption crimes, in accordance with European standards.

The Situation is not Rosy in Slovakia Either

The report on our northern neighbour is not very complimentary either. The Commission has found flaws in the areas of justice and fundamental rights. In its report, the College of Commissioners concluded that no steps had been taken in Slovakia to ensure that members of the Judicial Council were covered by adequate guarantees of independence as regards their dismissal. It turned out that to this day there are concerns about the power of the Prosecutor General to annul decisions of lower-ranking prosecutors.

It also emerged that coordination between different law enforcement agencies still needs to be improved and

politically motivated decisions on corruption investigations continue to undermine law enforcement cooperation.

In addition, the involvement of stakeholders in the legislative process remains a concern, especially in the case of fast-track procedures. But that is not all: the EC also found that the situation of gender equality and LGBTIQ rights organisations is still difficult in the country.

The Commission has also found flaws in the prosecution of judges. They consider that no progress has been made in ensuring that adequate safeguards are in place and properly enforced when it comes to the criminal prosecution of judges. It also calls on the Slovak Government to make efforts to legislate on conflicts of interest, but also mentions that the asset declaration system remains non-transparent and that there is still work to be done to submit proposals to regulate lobbying.

To sum up: it is obvious that a double standard continues to be applied in the EU when it comes to rule of law issues, with a marked bias versus conservative governments. The above-described saga of the Hungarian asset declaration system is a perfect example of the absurdity of the situation, but the obligation to transform the judicial system along power interests also paints a dismal picture of the priorities of the EU bureaucracy.

In the long run, this may lead to a weakening of integration, because if certain Member States are persecuted on political grounds, pro-EU attitudes can easily be reversed even in countries where support for the European Union is outstanding.

While Hungary has been declared to be the rule of law black sheep not only of the Carpathian Basin, but of the whole of Europe, Brussels has in fact found plenty of issues with other Members States as well in its annual report — only those are never highlighted by the EU bureaucracy or the mainstream media.