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'EU Member States look the other way when a country disrespects the EU values’

The Member States of the European Union do not intervene when a Member State disrespects the values of the European Union, Judith Sargentini, member of the GroenLinks party at the European Parliament, said at the annual Europa Lecture on 9 May in the Lorentzzaal of the KOG Building.

'Today is Europe Day', the politician started her lecture. 'And while we are here in Leiden, 27 EU heads of state are gathered in the medieval town of Sibiu in Romania. They will discuss the strategic agenda for the Union in the upcoming years. I fear that they will shy away from discussing the very foundation of the EU's existence: the rule of law in the Member States. We have Member States contributing to European policies and making European laws that apply throughout the EU that do not respect the rule of law as the basis for these policies and laws.'

She referred to the Romanian Laura Codruța Kövesi, until recently anti-corruption prosecutor in Romania, who had been appointed by the former Romania government but was recently dismissed by the current government. Kövesi had applied for the position of Head of EPPO, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Throughout the application process she was obstructed in all manner of ways by the Romanian government and finally did not get the job. 'The other Member States have failed to collectively denounce the treatment of Ms Kövesi by Romania’, Sargentini said. ‘Member States look the other way when the rule of law is undermined.'

As a second example she took Hungary, a country where the European Parliament in 2018 claimed the rule of law and democracy was in such an alarming state that immediate action was called for. She argued that Orbán and his allies hold all power and that the population lives in fear. 'More than four hundred media outlets have been merged into a single holding controlled by board members affiliated to Orbán's party Fidesz, a hefty 25% tax is imposed on civil society organizations when they carry out immigration-supporting activities and homelessness or sleeping rough has become a crime. So why is there such a little sense of urgency among the other Member States? Just like serious trouble inside an extended family, Member States feel uncomfortable about speaking up when a family member misbehaves.' But by ignoring the situation and looking the other way we will not deter Member States who do not respect the guiding principles of the EU, Sargentini says.

She concluded the lecture by looking ahead to the upcoming European elections. 'I'm very aware that Fidesz won three elections in a row. But the narrow concept of majoritan democracy is not in line with Article 2 of the Treaty that Hungary freely signed up to. Respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities requires political authority to be clearly defined, limited, and distributed by law.'

Orbán makes no distinction between criticism of him, his government, his nation and his people and this view is incompatible with the values of the EU, the politician claimed. 'Yet in many Member States political parties that are registered for the elections that take place in two weeks from now, share this view. Also in this country. The leader of the anti-European party Forum voor Democratie has called Orbán a hero.' 

She called on everyone to vote wisely on 23 May. 'Let us together make sure we have political representatives that respect the rule of law and contribute to upholding that rule of law whenever it is under threat in our Union.'

Photos: Jeroen Hiemstra

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