An EU hearing to restrict the rule of law in Hungary ended in a scandal. The Finnish EU Council Presidency accused a spokesman for Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of expressing anti-Semitism on Twitter. On the issue, too, the fronts remained hardened at the meeting of European Union ministers in Brussels on Tuesday: Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga spoke of a "witch hunt" due to ongoing EU criminal proceedings against Budapest.
The Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs behaved twice on Twitter. He posted comments on positions from other EU Member States during the meeting, although the meeting was considered non-public. Several delegations then complained to the Presidency, which issued a complaint against Hungary following a judicial review and requested a written opinion, as diplomats reported.
Even before Kovacs had written on Twitter over a photo of the council building: "Soros orchestra is about to enter the stage." This was followed by a tweet in which he accused the "Soros Orchestra" among the European ministers of writing to pull the EU into "their ideologically driven political struggle".
Kovacs alluded to the Jewish US billionaire George Soros. The Hungarian-born businessman has many right-wing conspiracy theories. Hungary's President Viktor Orbán accuses Soros of promoting illegal immigration to Hungary by funding aid agencies
"This is outrageous," said Finnish European Affairs Minister Tytti Tuppurainen on Kovacs' tweets. Finland currently holds the EU Presidency. "Every anti-Semitic act must be condemned in the sharpest possible way," Tuppurainen said. Breaking the confidentiality of the meeting was also "a serious matter".
EU politicians see deterioration in the situation in Hungary
The right-wing conservative government in Hungary has been accused for years of undermining fundamental EU values such as freedom of the press and rights of refugees and minorities. In addition to a number of infringement cases, Budapest is facing criminal proceedings that could lead to the withdrawal of voting rights at EU level.
At the meeting of Europe Ministers a hearing of the country took place for the second time, which was represented there by Minister of Justice Varga. She insisted that the criminal proceedings initiated by the European Parliament had to be based on "false accusations" and had to be ended.
Vice-President Vera Jourova said after the meeting that talks within the criminal procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty would have to be continued. "The Hungarian side has tried to convince us that everything is alright, I have the impression that there are still concerns."
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders even spoke of a "deterioration" of the situation. Even Germany's Foreign Minister Michael Roth (SPD) said before the beginning, current Hungarian legislative initiatives indicated "more as a sign that there may be setbacks".
Hungary's parliament adopts "muzzle law"
Meanwhile, the Hungarian parliament passed a series of controversial legislative proposals on Tuesday. A 200-page legislative package on administrative procedures includes, among other things, reforms of the courts, which, according to critics, restrict the independence of the judiciary. Other laws refer to municipalities and political institutions in Hungary.
An amendment criticized by the opposition as a "muzzling law" will in future allow the chairman of the parliament to impose fines on parliamentarians or to exclude them from meetings if they protest in the parliament building. Opposition MPs will also have harder access to public institutions such as ministries in the future.
Other legislative changes have been criticized by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for his party's recent electoral defeats. A novella restricts the possibility of multiple parties entering into alliance elections. In addition, the freedom of municipalities is limited in the use of taxpayers' money.