EU: Ursula von der Leyen delivers speech as MEP knits
With the EU looking to cement together its policy of an “ever closer union”, as well as following the policy of widening and deepening its supranational powers, are human rights abuses being sacrificed in order to maintain the “perfect” image the EU wishes to portray?
A tweet by website “Politico” raised the question, exposing the Hungarian diplomats’ methods.
The tweet read: “European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi has overseen a push to downplay concerns on the rule of law and human rights in candidates for EU membership, according to more than a dozen officials and an analysis of internal documents.”
With nations in the Western Balkans, as well as Turkey pushing for EU membership, the question of human rights is a topic that appears to be a thorn in the side of the EU.
EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen was blunt in her instructions to Mr Varhelyi when she appointed him.
“The respect for human rights and the rule of law should be the foundations for our international cooperation,” said Ms von der Leyen.
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Are the EU turning a blind eye to human rights?
A Tweet exposed reports found by Politico
The apparent distancing from the policies of the EU by Mr Varhelyi reflect those of Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who has repeatedly blanked EU institutions’ views on the rule of law and democracy, above all when it comes to being criticized of his own methods.
Mr Obran has continually championed his peer and southern neighbour, Serbian President, Aleksander Vucic, both men who themselves have come under the spotlight for their authoritarian rule and tendencies.
The Hungarian leader for one has been widely accused by some for abusing the country’s EU membership benefits, in particular when it comes to subsidies obtained from the Common Agriculture Policy, or CAP, with allegations floating around that Mr Orban is in receipt of money for land falling within his own interests.
With China emerging as a serious contender in Easter Europe, the EU is currently in a very delicate position.
EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi
Expansion can not come at any cost, yet at the same time, standing firm against an ever-growing presence by China, Turkey and some of the Persian Gulf states, the EU must not appear weak in its intentions of growing wider.
The Hungarian Commissioner refused to be interviewed by Politico on the subject, but did defend his record in writing, noting that he had overseen a revamp of Commission methodology for assessing candidates wishing to join the bloc.
However, EU officials raised their concerns.
One official who was not named said: “Varhelyi undermines the credibility of the Commission in the eyes of partners and member states,” raising the question as to just how the bloc operates across its area of influence.
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The same official also said that with Varhelyi in charge of the expansion portfolio, it “clearly weakens the EU Western Balkans policy in the long term and makes one question the claims of this being a geopolitical Commission.”
With the argument that China and other states are muscling in, the argument appears to have some validity to its reasoning.
Another official labelled the commissioner as “The Voldermort of enlargement”, adding, “He follows the agenda of his masters in Budapest, cosies up to authoritarian leaders and largely ignores issues related to the rule of law.”
Hardly fitting words by an institution that prides itself on unity and conformity.
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Focusing on the human rights issue, Varhelyi’s support of Serbia questions why he would support nations that according to NGO Freedom House, is a “partly free” country.
Adding to the image of Serbia, the NGO says: “The ruling Serbian Progressive Party, (SNS) has steadily eroded political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on independent media, the political opposition and civil society organisations.”
The same rhetoric was reflected with Turkey, in which a report about the country stated that “hate speech and smear campaigns by government officials and media against the LGBTI community had increased”.
Mr Valhelyi has lobbied hard on behalf of Turkey to Ursula von der Leyen, citing that Turkey’s cooperation in Syria had been a good example of EU – Turkey ties.
Not wishing to undermine her staff, a spokesman for VDL said that Valhelyi “had the full confidence” of the Commission President.