Hungary Foreign Minister says EU is ‘slow’
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Angela Merkel’s Europe minister Michael Roth warned the bloc has “lost credibility” with countries that do not respect the rule of law.
Speaking at an event in Coimbra, the German minister argued the EU has so far not been firm enough in ensuring all member states respect European standards when it comes to their own judicial systems and lawmaking processes.
In a brutal take on the EU’s rule of law status, he said: “I want to be very honest.
“The EU has not been firm enough in defending and strengthening the rule of law.
“We have lost a lot of our credibility, especially in member states where the rule of law is under pressure, and this is quite a heavy burden for the Council.”
The minister, together with his Portuguese and Slovenian counterparts, as well as the European Commission, proposed two mechanisms to protect and strengthen the rule of law across the bloc.
The plans will have to be approved by the EU Court of Justice at the request of Hungary and Poland, the two countries under investigations for suspected violations of European values under Article 7 of the EU Treaty.
Mr Roth said: “I am sure that the Court of Justice of the EU will confirm the legality of this new mechanism and that it will overcome any challenge put to it.”
Responding to criticism over the timing of his proposal as the bloc continues to fight against the coronavirus pandemic, he added: “We can always ask: why worry about the rule of law in times of a pandemic crisis? The answer is quite simple.
“Because that is when the rule of law is most important.
“Crises bring with them uncertainty.
“Some have tried to use this uncertainty to their advantage. They have attacked journalists, scientists, minorities, saying they knew the best way to fight the pandemic.
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“That is why we must fight together against hatred, violence and fake news based on the rule of law.”
Slovenian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Gašper Dovžan, who also attended the meeting, said that the Slovenian presidency, which will follow the Portuguese presidency from 1 July, would also emphasise respect for the rule of law.
He said: “It is crucial that the public trust public institutions, which is essential for member states to have more trust in each other.
“In addition, [the rule of law] is crucial for the internal market to function well and for its legislation to be applied and drafted impartially and effectively.”
Brussels has been locked in an ongoing dispute with Poland and Hungary over controversial legal reforms which the EU claims endanger judicial independence.
The bloc has consequently launched proceedings in accordance with Article 7 of the EU’s constitution, which could theoretically see both sides lose their European Council voting rights unless they back down.
Both Poland, led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, of the Law and Justice Party, and Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, of Fidesz, have long argued Brussels is attempting to punish both nations for having elected right-of-centre governments.
The two countries won separate tax disputes with the European Commission last week after the European Court of Justice ruled in their favour.
The court rejected the commission’s appeal of a lower court ruling upholding Hungary’s 2014 advertising tax.
Judges also concluded Poland’s lower tax rates for smaller retailers should not be regarded as illegal state aid.
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