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Could It Happen To Malta? MEPs React To EU Cutting Hungary Funds Over Rule Of Law Breaches

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For the first time ever, the European Union has triggered its rule of law mechanism, warning that Hungary could lose funding from the EU. 

Civil society groups and international watchdogs have long said that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has been violating international and EU law, as well as rolling back human rights. Orban’s government has also been accused of eroding traditional checks and balances, trying to restrict the media and give EU funds to those close to the government.

Yesterday, the European Commission took a major step in an attempt to change Orban and his government’s behaviour, triggering a mechanism that could risk Hungary losing out on EU funds over rule of law violations. It is the first time this mechanism has been deployed.

Lovin Malta spoke to some of Malta’s six MEPs to see what they thought of the EU’s reaction to trigger this mechanism and whether or not they think the same could happen to Malta. 

PN MEP David Casa said that he is pleased that the Commission acted to trigger the rule of law. “This goes to show that the European Commission, as the executive branch of the European Union, acted to safeguard our European values,” he said. 

“For the past years, I have worked together with fellow MEPs and have successfully pushed for the mechanism to be introduced for the whole continent. Europe is not a cash cow but a community rooted in a respect for democracy and fundamental freedoms,” Casa said. 

While he acknowledged that even though the decision made by the Commission is not a “happy one”, it was necessary to stop the rise of the “so-called ‘illiberal democracy’ in Hungary”.

When speaking about whether or not he was concerned Malta would find itself in a similar situation as Malta, Casa said that “Malta is no different to other member states, in the sense that it has as much duty to safeguard the rule of law as Hungary, Poland, France, or Germany.”

He also spoke of how the resolution passed by the European Parliament last year called on “the Maltese authorities [to] take further demonstrable steps, setting long-term legislative and policy measures that serve to ensure an environment for critical, independent journalism in Malta and the accountability of politicians and officials”.

He said that Malta needs to “ensure swifter progress on cases of high-level corruption and money laundering that were exposed over recent years”. However, he said this isn’t just about ensuring EU funding, it’s because the “Maltese people deserve that justice is served on those that robbed them blind”. 

PL MEP Alex Agius Saliba, on the other hand, took a different stance to Casa on the possibility of Malta facing the same fate as Hungary. He said that Malta has been praised by the Commission in recent weeks for reforms to strengthen rule of law, “therefore one cannot compare the situation in Hungary and the one in Malta”.

PL MEP Cyrus Engerer took a similar stance as Agius Saliba when speaking on the matter, praising Malta for its “great strides when it comes to strengthening its governance structures, the rule of law and is a benchmark for human rights”. 

Engerer referenced European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s 2022 State of the Union speech, where she “singled Malta out as the country to look at as an example of hard work to strengthen its democracy”. 

He said that “the same cannot be said for Hungary and Poland” and that it is “not surprising that the European Commission has upheld the requests made by the European Parliament to apply the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism and cut funding to Hungary”. 

Engerer said that “as a rapporteur and shadow rapporteur on issues relating to the rule of law in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, I welcome the commission’s decision and urge it to continue in its actions to uphold the union’s values in those countries that trample upon citizen’s rights and freedoms and that seek to dissolve the basic functioning of the state”. 

“No other Member State compares to Hungary and Poland’s destruction of the rule of law within the European Union,” Engerer concluded.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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Amy is a university student with a keen interest in all things related to food, photography, press freedom, politics and justice. Send her any stories that might be of interest at [email protected]

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