Recently, the European Parliament voted to begin the Article 7 sanctions process against Hungary. Their resolution was a response to “a clear risk of a serious breach…of the values on which the [European] Union is founded,” and aimed “to restore inclusive democracy, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental rights in Hungary.”
The unprecedented vote to invoke Article 7 illustrates the current battle lines within the EU between those who favor a greater role for Brussels and those hoping to retain and recover national self-determination. The measure claims even more authority for the EU than at first appears. By castigating Hungary’s policies towards religion and the family, the resolution aims to extend Brussels’ reach over values and institutions that have long been left to member states. Commentators, including critics of the move, have failed to properly see this.
To be sure, these are not the only targets of criticism. Others range from constitutional matters to the electoral system, corruption, privacy issues, and Hungary’s position on non-EU migration. I intend neither to defend Hungary from these charges nor argue that the country’s laws cannot be improved.
Nevertheless, by including Hungary’s approach to religion and the family as reasons for Article 7 sanctions, the European Parliament is sending a clear message. Hungarians are to replace their values and conceptions of these two basic institutions with those more acceptable to Brussels. This demand is not the outcome of dialogue and open debate, but an attempt by one side to impose its vision.
The Article 7 resolution criticizes Hungarian legislation that affects religious organizations. It finds fault with an act that regulates religious groups that distinguishes between faith-based organizations and recognized churches, and offers the latter, currently 31 in total, the prerogative to enter into agreements with the State regarding “public interest activities” and receive funding. The measure replaced a system in which most of the 406 registered religious entities were partly funded, directly or indirectly, by the state, with some more interested in financial benefits than pursuing religious activities.
The European Parliament complains that the new act will lead to “an unequal and even discriminatory treatment of religious beliefs and communities.” It cites the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the law,