The European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) has made several serious criticisms regarding the situation in Hungary.
Members of the committee on Wednesday voted 13:4 to approve the opinion which stated that it was regrettable the dispute between the European Commission and the Hungarian government regarding Hungary’s higher education law had not been resolved to date.
Hungary, it noted, has the right to its own education laws but these must not conflict with freedom rights of the internal market.
The committee put the matter of Hungary’s higher education law on the agenda in March in connection with a report on Hungary being drawn up by the EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The CULT opinion will be included in the LIBE report.
The committee said the protracted case of the Central European University (CEU) and the agreement regarding the university’s operations was problematic. It called on the government to sign the agreement since the CEU had fulfilled the prescribed conditions.
Meanwhile, the committee said the European Commission had not been careful enough in its examination of the 2010 Hungarian media law. It cited rules on cross-ownership which, it said, caused distortions and imbalances in the media market. Ownership concentration has intensified on the Hungarian media market and many independent local broadcasters and television stations have disappeared, it said, adding that the public service broadcaster generally spread government messages uncritically. Spending on public advertisements favours certain companies at the expense of others, while government spending on adverts tends to be directed towards government-dominated and “oligarch-controlled” media outlets, it said.
The committee also expressed concerns about the situation of freedom and diversity of the press, as well as the narrowing space for civil society organisations. It also said forms of everyday discrimination against Roma were numerous and segregation of Roma children in schools was systemic. Given the situation in higher education, discrimination against Roma, problems with press freedom and the situation of NGOs, there is a clear risk of serious violations of EU values, justifying the launch of Article 7 of the EU treaty, the committee said.
Andrea Bocskor, an MEP for ruling Fidesz, responded as saying that the committee’s critical remarks are unfounded and the assessment is politically biased.
“The members of the committee have completely disregarded objective facts and the actual situation; they have in fact decided in advance that Hungary must be punished and pillorised,”
Bocskor said that “by threatening Hungary with a procedure under Article 7, the political left obviously wants to put pressure on the Hungarian government, force it to compromise on its policies, yield to the will of the Brussels mainstream and sacrifice the country on the altar of the ‘open society’ concept”.
On Tuesday, the EP’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) had also criticised Hungary in its opinion, pointing out several concerns: “about the narrowing of gender equality policies, the sexual and reproductive rights, the ill-treatment and discrimination of Roma women in their access to healthcare and the future functioning of NGOs including women’s rights organizations and higher education institutions, especially those devoted to gender studies, which have become the target of defamation campaigns”.
According to Fidesz MEP Livia Jaroka – who is also one of the EP’s vice-presidents – the opinion is full of “falsehoods” and misinterpretations and contains even some “fabrications”. In this form, the draft is unacceptable – she told Hungarian press. Speaking to Hungarian daily Magyar Hirlap on Wednesday, she stressed that the opinion is full of ideological criticism, the influence of NGOs is very strong and the EP’s liberal forces want to punish Hungary because they are afraid of the European elections next year.
Szajer: Hungary’s consent needed to curb EU funding
European Union rules would have to be changed in order to curb funding for member states, and this can happen only with Hungary’s consent, Jozsef Szajer, an MEP of the ruling Fidesz-led alliance, said in an interview. Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a seasoned negotiator whose opinion is impossible to overlook in such important decisions, he said in the interview published in the daily Magyar Idok on Wednesday.
The EU funding is based on budgetary rules not ideology, Szajer said, referring to calls within the EU to make funding conditional on compliance with the bloc’s basic values.
“Changing EU regulations cannot be done without us. Those threats have been hanging in the air for a while, but they do not have much basis. Viktor Orban is a seasoned negotiator. Hungary captured the second best conditions before the last EU financial cycle,”
No important debate is held in today’s Europe without hearing Orban’s opinion, Szajer said. “He is mentioned as the continent’s third leading politician next to the German Chancellor and the French president…” Szajer said.
Regarding the calls of some MEPs to curb funding for Hungary, Szajer said Hungarian voters will have the opportunity in the 2019 European elections to pass judgement on MEPs who “talk against Hungary and the Hungarian people in Strasbourg…” Szajer’s remarks came the day after Democratic Coalition MEP Peter Niedermueller, in a joint article with a Swedish MEP published by news portal EUObserver, called on the European Commission to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary over the situation of Roma children in the country.
Photo: European Parliament