Hungarian NGOs contribute to the European Commission’s second Rule of Law Report

Eight Hungarian NGOs submitted a joint contribution in the stakeholder consultation launched by the European Commission for its second annual Rule of Law Report. The Commission’s Rule of Law Report pertaining to 2019 identified substantial problems severely threatening the rule of law in Hungary in all four areas examined. According to the NGOs, the situation has deteriorated further in 2020. They trust that in this year’s report, the Commission will make concrete, enforceable recommendations to EU Member States, hence also for Hungary on how to advance rule of law in the EU.

The European Commission’s Rule of Law Report covers all EU Member States, and examines the following four areas: the justice system, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism, and other institutional issues related to the system of checks and balances. The Commission prepared its Rule of Law Report for the first time in 2020. That report, covering 2019, identified substantial problems severely threatening the rule of law in Hungary in all four areas examined.

In the preparation of the report, the Commission relies on various sources, not just on the input received from Member States: it also launched a stakeholder consultation, so that civil society organisations, academics, or journalists’ federations and judges’ associations can share their views on the state of the rule of law with the EU.

Similarly to last year, eight Hungarian civil society organisations – Amnesty International Hungary, Eötövs Károly Institute, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, K-Monitor, Mertek Media Monitor, Political Capital and Transparency International Hungary – cooperated to send responses to the EC consultation questions with regard to Hungary.

Our submission shows that in 2020, the rule of law has further deteriorated in Hungary in all the four areas examined, for example due the following:

  • The structural deficiencies pertaining to judicial self-governance continue to threaten the independence of the judiciary.
  • The circumstances of electing the new President of the supreme judicial body endangers the internal independence of individual judges within the justice system.
  • The chilling effect on the freedom of expression of judges is encoded in the Hungarian justice system, preventing judges from speaking up or protesting against administrative decisions and laws affecting the judiciary.
  • The government abuses extraordinary powers accorded to it in order to fight the covid-19 pandemic to redirect public money and assets to the regime’s clientele and cronies, and to financially suffocate municipalities under opposition leadership. An example is the distribution of state grants among tourisme service providers: out of HUF 300 billion distributed by the Tourism Agency between 2018 and 2020, 0.5 percent of the applicant has got the two-third of total spending. The municipalities were deprived of a significant portion of their own revenues. Transparency was also severely hit, as the government’s emergency decree restricted the access to public information by tripling the 30-day deadline for servicing freedom of information requests.
  • Independent media outlets are still hindered by various – previously identified – tools utilized by the Government from carrying out their duty. This particularly affects the access to information regarding the pandemic. Furthermore, access to public information and documents was also further restricted and the Constitutional Court failed to step up against this measure.
  • Public consultation about draft laws has practically ceased: not only the 9th Amendment to the Fundamental Law, but also several further draft laws affecting fundamental rights have been submitted to the Parliament by omitting or circumventing mandatory prior public consultation.
  • Declaring a state of danger and the so-called Authorization Acts granted excessive regulatory powers to the Government, which was cemented by laws adopted during the summer. The Government has used its powers in several instances to restrict fundamental rights.
  • The Constitutional Court still does not fulfil its constitutional function.
  • The Ombudsperson has failed to take adequate steps to protect the rights of the Roma, LGBTQI persons or asylum-seekers, for example.
  • There are severe deficiencies when it comes to executing the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union. For example, the governing majority has not repealed yet the law stigmatising NGOs receiving funds from abroad, even though the CJEU ruled already in June 2020 that it violates EU law.

The European Commission plans to publish the Rule of Law Report in the summer. The above eght Hungarian NGOs trust that in its report, in contrast to the report of last year, the Commission will make concrete, enforceable recommendations to EU Member States, including for Hungary, on how to advance rule of law in the EU. It would be also necessary for the Commission to take concrete steps to tackle the violations of the EU’s fundamental values on the basis of the Rule of Law Report. Furthermore, the conclusions of the Rule of Law Report should also be used by the EU in the Article 7 procedure launched in relation to Hungary.

The contributions of the eight Hungarian NGOs are available here in English.