As part of his attendance at the meeting of the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Tuesday 22 June, Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne, T.D. participated in an Article 7 Treaty on European Union (TEU) hearings in relation to Hungary’s adherence to EU values and rule of law issues in Poland.
The 22 June Hungary hearing was the latest assessment by the General Affairs Council of whether Hungary has breached the foundational EU values enshrined in Article 2 Treaty on European Union (TEU). These values include respect for human rights, human dignity, equality, and the rule of law.
The hearing in relation to Poland was a further examination by the General Affairs Council of whether aspects of recent Polish judicial reforms have weakened rule of law standards in Poland.
Ireland joined with fellow EU member states to use the hearing as a chance to call upon Hungary and Poland to uphold their obligations under Article 2.
Commenting The Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne, T.D. said
“Ireland is committed to maintaining the values upon which the EU is founded and to which all member states have signed up. As such, I welcomed the opportunity to express our concerns about Hungary’s and Poland’s adherence to EU values. Today’s hearing had added significance given the recent law passed by the Hungarian parliament, which represented an unacceptable attack on the rights of the LGBTQI+ community in Hungary. At today’s hearing I made Ireland’s firm opposition to this discriminatory legislation clear”
22 June 2021
Notes for Editors
- Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) holds that “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”
- Article 7 TEU establishes the process by which the European Council can determine that there is a clear risk of a breach or existence of a breach of the EU values by a Member State. The Commission, European Parliament or a third of Member States can invoke Article 7. Where the existence of a breach is determined, measures can be taken against the Member State in question, including the suspension of rights deriving from the treaties. Where the European Council determines that a breach exists, Article 7 also defines how measures can be taken against the Member State in question. Unanimity is required for the determination of the existence of a breach under Article 7
- The first Council hearing in relation to Hungary at the General Affairs Council (GAC) was in 2018 on foot of the European Parliament’s adoption of the Sargentini report, which examined issues of concern relating to the state of democracy, the rule of law, and civil liberties in Hungary. A second hearing followed at the September 2019 GAC with no resolution.
- Article 7 was invoked by the European Commission for the first time in relation to Poland in December 2017. The first Article 7 hearing regarding Poland was in June 2018, followed by subsequent hearings in September and December 2018. The reforms of Poland’s justice system are the Commission’s main focus in the Article 7 procedure. These reforms have increased the influence of the executive and legislative powers and weakened judicial independence.
- Ireland is a firm supporter of EU values. Ireland has actively participated in Article 7 hearings and discussions at the GAC, demonstrating our commitment to safeguarding EU values.
- On 15 June, the Hungarian National Assembly passed a bill on “stricter measures against paedophile criminals and on amending legislation related to the protection of children” by a 157 to 1 vote. It is expected the bill will become law.
- International reaction and disapproval has been noticeable. Commission President Von der Leyen tweeted a statement expressing concern and saying this would be examined to see if it breaches EU law.
- Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès (Belgium is the current holder of the Benelux Presidency) noted that Benelux ministers were very concerned about the new Hungarian legislation and intend to make a joint statement at the 22 June GAC.
- The Benelux Declaration contends that by falsely equating homosexuality with paedophilia, the bill stigmatises LGBTQI+ people in Hungary and violates the community’s rights to equality and human dignity. In addition, the declaration argues that the bill interferes unduly with freedom of expression rights by restricting LGBTQI+ representation in media. The declaration urges the European Commission to respond to ensure the Hungarian LGBTQI+ community’s rights are protected.
- Ireland is a co-signatory to this statement.