The history of EU Article 7: time to apply it to Hungary or not yet?


After the “wall of shame” built by Hungarian Prime Minister Orban to stop refugees coming from the Middle East today the increasing frightened Hungarian parliament passed a law allowing the army to use rubber bullets, tear gas grenades and net guns against refugees. The new law will allow soldiers to be sent to help police manage the refugee crisis, carrying out many of the same tasks such as checking ID, detaining suspects and controlling the flow of traffic at the borders. Recently Orban declared: “those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity…..Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”

Is this too much all this actions and declarations for a European country and leader or not yet? Do they represent a violation of the fundamental values of European Union or are they just a security issue of a sovereign state and sentences of an innocuous “dictator”, as the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently called him? To discern this issue is not easy but we can look at some instruments that the EU has to protect itself from ‘democratically elected undemocratic governments’. One of this tool is the Article 7, the so called “Austria lex”. Let’s see what it is and how it born.

In 2000 there was no mechanism for ensuring that all the countries that were already a EU member state were in compliance with the Copenhagen criteria laid down at the June 1993 European Council, among which the political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. Therefore special arrangements had been put in place in that year, some type of “sanctions”, imposed by the other 14 EU Member States’ governments against the Austrian government of Wolfgang Schüssel, who had made a coalition including Jörg Haider’s extreme right party. The informal/unofficial sanctions, based on ceasing cooperation, refusing basic social interaction and keeping unavoidable contacts to the legally required minimum, didn’t block the government from keep working though. The Schussel government went on until 2006 with a second mandate again in alliance with Haider’s party.

In response to the failed sanctions against Austria the EU Treaty of Nice in 2001 adopted formal rules for the application of sanctions against a Member State. The Treaty of Nice amended the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome, reformed the institutional structure of the European Union to withstand eastward expansion and established also formal rules for the application of sanctions against a Member State: the so called “Lex Austria”. The Lex Austria therefore is a political sanction according to which the member states can lose their voting rights if the other EU countries find that they have breached human rights. The law is repeated in the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 but is extended to situations when there is a “clear risk of a serious breach” by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2. This new paragraph added with the Lisbon Treaty therefore enables a prevention mechanism aiming at facilitating EU intervention before the breaches actually occur.
But what are the values of Article 2? Article 2 recites: “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. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”. Therefore if Hungary is considered to violate values of respect of human dignity and human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, can be called accountable. Two questions remain in place though: what is the limit for an action to be considered as serious breach? And what about non-citizens, are immigrant minorities considered at the same level of citizens minorities?

We don’t know yet what will be but for sure the European Parliament started already to reflect again on Hungarian’s behavior. This is the second time and may be could be the right one. The first time the European Parliament in July 2013 adopted a resolution calling on Hungary to reform its Constitution and change policies to bring it in line with EU norms and values. But at that time it didn’t work. Now may be is the right time. Actually a motion for a new resolution has been passed already last June, against Orban and its interest in debating a potential re-establishment of the death penalty in Hungary and new policies on migration.
At a time of economic and identity crisis the EU hast to recuperate its unity and not increase its divisions and it has to fight against any germ of populism, racism, xenophobia and dictatorship. This could be a good occasion. As Slavoj Zizek recently wisely said, “Europe will have to reassert its full commitment to provide means for the dignified survival of the refugees” besides “organize itself and impose clear rules and regulations” (see:

Sources for information about Article 7:

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