Barroso urges PM to start debate on Hungary

While legal proceedings have started against Hungary by the Commission, Barroso argues political debate needed on European values following ‘undemocratic’ changes to Hungarian constitution

Jose Manuel Barroso, chairman of the European Commission, appealed directly to PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and other EU leaders to begin a political discussion on the implications of Hungary’s controversial changes to its constitution – changes which are being accused of being undemocratic and contrary to European values.

“Member states should also discuss and debate the matter,” Barroso said yesterday at a joint press conference with Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Strasbourg.

Barroso’s appeal to the head of the EU presidency came the day after the commission took the first formal steps toward legal proceedings against Hungary for breaking the Lisbon Treaty. The commission has made it clear that the Hungarian government would be taken to the EU courts unless they rewrite or scrap a raft of controversial changes to their constitution which conflict with EU law.

“There are two discussions with Hungary, one legal and one political. The commission is presiding over the legal procedure that we have initiated. But there is also a political issue,” Barroso said. “I believe that we have to discuss the case politically. We have to stay true to our principles and values.”

Barroso’s statement piles pressure on Thorning-Schmidt to raise the case with the European Council of Ministers. So far she has trod carefully and has been unwilling to criticise Hungary directly.

But at the press conference with Barroso, Thorning-Schmidt made no promises to raise the issue and only reiterated that the Danish presidency supported the commission’s decision to pursue Hungary for breaching the Lisbon Treaty.

“The commission plays an important role as guardians of the treaty and they have sufficient basis to proceed with a case. We have to take that very seriously and we fully support the commission,” Thorning-Schmidt said. “Every country has a duty to abide by the law.”

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Oban, is due to travel to Brussels on January 24 to meet Barroso, but was already in Strasbourg yesterday to explain the constitutional changes.

During the ensuing debate, several political groups in the European Parliament argued that they ought to invoke article seven of the Lisbon Treaty, which would start a debate to determine whether further sanctions, such as the removal of voting powers, should be brought against Hungary.

Legal proceedings against Hungary may be averted however, after Orban stated at the press conference in Strasbourg that he may be willing to compromise on the changes to the constitution.

“I’m only tough when the interests of my country require me to be and I compromise when the interests of the Hungarian people require me to do so,” Orban said.

Two of the controversial additions to the Hungarian constitution include protecting the life of fetuses from the moment of conception as well as defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.