The following is a translation of an article written by Balázs Tárnok, Managing Director of Europe Strategy Research Institute, University of Public Service, originally published on Ludovika.hu.
On 17 July, the European Parliament (EP) presented the report of the Meijers Committee, a supposedly independent organisation that sets out proposals on how to take the EU Presidency away from Hungary and Poland. During the meeting, MEPs expressed doubts about whether the options outlines were politically realistic, but they also raised new ideas on how the EP could make it impossible for the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies to succeed. The political agitation against the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies continues in the EP, but in practice, this will have no impact on the Hungarian Presidency.
In recent months, we have seen several attempts by the European Parliament to block the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, due in the second half of 2024, and the Polish Presidency, due in the first half of 2025. While there is a great deal of political agitation and pressure in the EP, it does not significantly affect the cooperation of Member States in the Council of the European Union. This was also evident at the General Affairs Council meeting on 27 June, where the programme of the Spanish–Belgian–Hungarian Presidency was presented by the three Member States, and where there was no trace of the political debates going on in the European Parliament in recent weeks, which have cast doubt on Hungary’s ability to properly assume the Presidency.
However, the political actors in the EP remain committed to giving political attacks on the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies as much space as possible in as many fora as possible. A further step in this direction was the joint meeting of the LIBE (Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) and AFCO (Committee on Constitutional Affairs) committees of the EP on 17 July,
the only item on the agenda of which was the presentation of the study by the Dutch Meijers Committee.
The Meijers Commission is a self-professedly independent panel of experts in the Netherlands, composed of lawyers, academics, researchers, judges, and lawyers, with the declared aim of promoting the rule of law and human rights in European legislatures. The panel advises MEPs, among others, on their legislative work and has made it a priority to raise awareness among lawyers, civil servants, and politicians of the need to uphold the rule of law in legislative processes.
In the study, the panel explored ways to take away or limit the possibility of Hungary and Poland holding the rotating Presidency. The Meijers Committee outlined three options: a partial limitation of the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies (Hungary and Poland would not be allowed to chair meetings where rule of law issues are on the agenda); the other members of the Spanish–Belgian–Hungarian and Polish–Danish–Cypriot trio could indicate, in accordance with relevant legal processes, that cooperation with Hungary and Poland has been rendered impossible; the European Council could impose conditions on the holding of the rotating EU Presidency, such as requiring the postponement of the rotating Presidency of Member States that are under Article 7 proceedings.
The analysis was presented at the meeting by two members of the panel, Kees Groenendijk, Professor Emeritus at Radboud University in Nijmegen, and John Morijn, Professor of Law at the University of Groningen. However, both the analysis and the presentation at the meeting raise serious concerns about the independence of the panel.
It was stated at the meeting, and described in the study, that changing the order of the rotating EU Presidency is common practice, and has already happened six times in the past (in particular, when new Member States joined, but also after the Brexit referendum, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, and once at Germany’s own request), but the authors failed to point out that
on no occasion has the order been changed against the express will of the Member State concerned,
as a political sanction. Likewise, the impartiality of the panel is also called into question by Professor Morijn’s statement at the meeting that he was confident that after the Polish elections, there would be a political change in the country and that Poland would have another government that respected the law.
During the meeting, several MEPs, such as Sara Skyttedal (SE, EPP), Birgit Sippel (DE, S&D), and Pedro Silva Pereira (PT, S&D), expressed their reservations about the change in the order of the Presidencies, both because of its political feasibility the problems it would cause.
According to Sophia In’t Veld (NL, Renew), the Meijers Committee’s proposals could only be enforced through complicated procedures, and she, therefore, considers it more practical to limit the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies’ room for manoeuvre by keeping cooperation with the EP to a minimum. She stressed that in the legislative procedure, the trialogue is not a legal requirement, but merely a custom, and therefore the EP is not legally bound to it (a trialogue behind closed doors between the Commission, Parliament, and Council is held after the Council and the Parliament have adopted their positions on a legislative proposal presented by the Commission so that the three institutions negotiate a compromise proposal behind closed doors, in order to facilitate the legislative procedure, which is then formally ratified by the Council and the Parliament). Sophia In’t Veld, therefore, suggested that the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies should be incapacitated in practice, by circumventing them where possible, in particular by staying away from trialogues.
Although this proposal raises serious concerns about the principle of loyal cooperation between EU institutions, no concerns were signalled by either by MEPs or by the professors present in the Meijers Committee. In fact, Professor Kees Groenendijk even warned that it is possible to suspend the trialogues on certain issues only, not on all legislative issues.
In addition, Professor Groenendijk also urged the MEPs present in the EP to
adopt a resolution setting out the criteria under which a Member State should be excluded from holding the rotating Presidency,
for example, if it is subject to a rule of law procedure.
It looks like the EP will adopt the latter proposal. Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (FR, Greens/EFA), who is in charge of the parliamentary dossier on the rule of law in Hungary, told social-democratic Hungarian daily Népszava after the meeting that they would start drafting a resolution immediately after the summer recess, setting out the conditions under which Member States can hold the EU Presidency, and listing the measures they would take if a country with a serious democratic deficit were to become the head of the intergovernmental body.
The meeting was also addressed by MEP Daniel Freund (DE, Greens/EFA), who stressed that changing the order of the Presidency would not have a negative side effect on the Hungarian people. He explained that although the issue of the rotating Presidency should primarily be settled by the Council,
the EP should continue to exert political pressure to make the Hungarian and Polish Presidencies impossible or significantly more difficult.
Nevertheless, both the meeting and the analysis failed to mention that the Hungarian EU Presidency will take place during the change of the EU institutional cycle, although this will have a significant impact on the Hungarian Presidency’s room for manoeuvre, especially on the possibilities for progress in legislative procedures. (The new EP will be formed in early July, shortly after the start of the Hungarian Presidency, following the elections to the European Parliament on 9 June 2024, and the parliamentary hearings of the new European Commission candidates will start after the summer recess.)
Against this background, it seems that the majority of MEPs are aware of the legal and political limitations of the options for action outlined in the Meijers Committee’s analysis, but are committed to continuing to exert political pressure on Hungary and Poland in the coming months.
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