IBA and IBAHRI regret lack of accountability for Hungary and Poland in EU recovery deal

Friday 31 July 2020


The International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) regret that, despite European Union concern over the failure of Hungary and Poland to adhere to the rule of law and numerous human rights violations, the two countries have not been held accountable with regard to the EU recovery deal. The two nations are set to benefit from a EUR 750 billion recovery fund agreed by EU leaders to reconstruct Europe after the COVID-19 pandemic.

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto commented: ‘We are witnessing a crisis of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, with frequent attacks against the judiciary and the legal profession. The EU must not stand by while such attacks on democratic norms take place. The failure to make economic assistance contingent upon observance of European values will further embolden the Hungarian and Polish governments on a course of repression, without fear of any consequence from the EU. As the global voice of the legal profession, the IBA calls on the EU to introduce new measures to protect the rule of law as soon as possible.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996 – 2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, stated: ‘The IBAHRI has been greatly concerned by the interference with judicial independence in both Hungary and Poland, and has closely followed the actions of both countries’ governments to exploit the Coronavirus crisis as a means to extend their powers. We regret that the EU has not utilised the opportunity to reinforce a commitment to the rule of law and democracy in the agreement of the recovery plan. This failure will be received by Hungary and Poland as a validation of attacks on the judiciary and freedom of expression throughout the COVID-19 crisis.’

Hungary and Poland threatened to veto the deal if EU funding was conditional upon upholding the rule of law and democracy and forced a redraft of the proposals. As a result, the EU decided that no condition would apply immediately despite a Resolution that it had passed on 17 April describing the actions of the Hungarian and Polish governments during the COVID-19 crisis as ‘totally incompatible with European values.’ The deal tasked the European Commission to propose measures to stop funding to Member States in the event of rule of law breaches, but it does not provide accountability for their recent actions. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called the backdown a ‘huge victory’ and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described it as affirmation that ‘Poland cannot be deprived of a single euro.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented: ‘Those who have used the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext to introduce regressive and repressive measures should not be awarded recovery funds indiscriminately. The EU must insist upon accountability from States who fail to uphold the rule of law, human rights and democracy. Since this has not been provided in the EU recovery plan, new measures must be introduced to protect the rule of law throughout the EU to ensure further attacks on the rule of law and judiciary are not mandated. The EU must reinforce the credibility of “European values”.’

Hungary and Poland are reminded that membership of the EU is conditional upon the fulfilment of common values. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, provides 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 of the Treaty provides that, if the European Council unanimously votes that a breach of these principles has taken place, the Council of the European Union – if upheld by a qualified majority – may then vote to vary or suspend the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State.

Since the EU recovery deal was not made conditional upon the protection of the rule of law within Member States, the power of the EU to curtail the steps being taken by countries like Hungary and Poland to interfere with the rights of minorities and to reduce judicial independence and freedom of the media is undermined.

The emergency legislation allowing Prime Minister Orbán to rule by decree ended on June 18, but Hungary has put in its place new legislation that allows the government to reintroduce rule by decree whenever it declares a public health emergency. This allows the possibility of further abuses of power and human rights. An ‘omnibus’ bill was also passed which impedes the rights of transgender individuals and introduces measures to extend government influence over cultural institutions. Furthermore, the day after the EU recovery plan was introduced, Szabolcs Dull – editor-in-chief of Hungary’s largest independent news website Index – was fired. This took place only a month after he raised concern over political interference in his organisation. It points to a worrying affirmation of Prime Minister Orbán’s crackdown on dissent following his ‘victory’ regarding the EU recovery plan.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to view related material on Hungary
  2. Click here to view related material on Poland
  3. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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