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EURÓPAI ÚJSÁGÍRÓK SZÖVETSÉGE MAGYAR TAGOZAT - THE CONDITIONALITY PROVISION SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS

2020. december 29.

 

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Európai újságírók szövetsége
magyar tagozat

THE CONDITIONALITY PROVISION SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS

 

 A "Hungarian Spectrum" posztja Martin József cikke alapján

2020. december 29.

 


THE CONDITIONALITY PROVISION SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS

 


This post by Hungarian Spectrum was inspired by József Martin’s article “Europe may be Orbán’s Waterloo,” which appeared in Népszava on December 24.
József Martin is a senior journalist, researcher, and the president of the Hungarian Section of AEJ.


In his article on Viktor Orbán’s prospects vis-à-vis the European Union after the passage of the conditionality provision, Martin compares today’s situation with that following the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975.
He begins his analysis with the December 16 speech of EU President Ursula von der Leyen, which, in his opinion, “signals not the end of a process but the prelude to a new age in the relationship between the Union and the two contravening countries.”

 

So, let’s see what Ursula von der Leyen said in that speech that Martin found significant. First, she emphasized that the conditionality mechanism arrived at by the European Parliament remained untouched, which was a “red line” for the EP legislators. Second, she tried to allay their fears that “justice delayed might be justice denied.” Finally, she reassured them that “the regulation will apply from 1 January 2021 onwards.”

 

One can of course say that these promises are nice, but the real question is what will come of them. It is at this point that Martin turns to the Helsinki Accords, also known as the Helsinki Final Act, that was signed, after two years of intense negotiations, in the Finnish capital between July 30 and August 1, 1975. Leaders of all of the then-existing European countries, with the exception of the pro-Chinese Albania, as well as the United States and Canada, a total of 35 countries, signed the Final Act in the hope of improving relations between the Soviet bloc and the West.

 

Agreement on the Helsinki Accords turned out to be a watershed moment. In the next 25 years the Accords helped to bring about, however slowly, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its hold on Eastern Europe. But at the time they were controversial. Shortly after the document was signed, I was at a dinner party where a mercurial Hungarian political scientist argued against certain provisions of the Accords with one of the dinner guests, who, as it turned out, was a member of the U.S. negotiating team and was therefore able to straighten out our combative compatriot. It was a memorable evening.

 

In what way did the Helsinki Accords contribute to the political changes that occurred after 1975? Martin argues that they provided a framework which allowed international organizations and domestic “dissidents” to demand “the human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” that were promised by the signatories from the Soviet bloc countries, including János Kádár. Soon enough, many non-governmental international organizations sprang up, such as Helsinki Watch, International Helsinki Federation, and Human Rights Watch. In addition, the Accords encouraged the members of the internal opposition, who could appeal to the provisions of an agreement signed by the rulers of their countries. It was no coincidence that the late 1970s and 1980s saw the flowering of internal opposition and the flourishing of samizdat in Hungary.

 

Although Martin doesn’t compare the Kádár regime to the current political system, he thinks that, with the passage of the conditionality mechanism, “a legal basis has undoubtedly been created with the blessings of the prime ministers and heads of states and the European Parliament.” Poland and Hungary had some success in delaying the process, but “there are signs that, as one MP put it, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were defeated in a windmill battle against the rule of law.”

 

Martin thinks that, although it is difficult to predict the future of the relationship between Hungary and the European Union, the opposition received a very useful instrument in the legal document produced by the European Commission and the European Parliament. And, however reluctantly, the pugilist prime ministers affixed their signatures to it. Now, every time there is a government move that members of the opposition and even ordinary citizens consider to be a violation of the rule of law, they can turn to the European Commission for adjudication. Thus, the mechanism offers greater room for maneuvering than the cumbersome and ineffectual Article 7 procedure.
In my opinion, József Martin’s comparison of the Helsinki Accords to the rule of law mechanism sheds an optimistic light on the value of the recently adopted legal instrument.

 

EVA S. BALOGH
Hungarian Spectrum
reflections on politics, economics, and culture
DECEMBER 29, 2020