European Commission launches infringement procedures against Hungary
The European Commission on Thursday launched infringement procedures against Hungary over plans to make travel by rail accessible to people with disabilities and over excise tax rates on cigarettes.
The EC sent Hungarian authorities a “letter of formal notice”, the first step in an infringement procedure, for failing to submit national implementation plans on compliance with regulations on accessibility to rail travel for people with disabilities and on the “operation and traffic management” subsystem of the rail system. The respective deadlines for submitting the plans were January 1, 2017 and July 1, 2017.
The EC also sent Hungary a letter of formal notice for failing to reach the minimum European Union threshold for excise tax duty on cigarettes.
The excise tax on cigarettes in member states must be at least 60 percent of the weighted average retail in the territory.
Hungary has two months to act on the matters or the EC may send authorities a “reasoned opinion”, the second and penultimate step in an infringement procedure.
The EC also decided on Thursday to send Hungary a complementary letter of formal notice for an electronic oversight system intended to prevent tax fraud among road haulage companies.
The EC reiterated that the system requiring road haulage companies to provide detailed information for VAT purposes “infringes on VAT rules as it primarily affects cross-border EU transactions and introduces administrative formalities connected with the crossing of borders”, as it said in its initial letter of formal notice sent in October 2017. But it added that legislation on the system “breaches the principles of neutrality and proportionality, as well as the freedom to conduct a business guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU”.
Moreover, the European Commission has entered its infringement procedure against Hungary concerning Hungary’s “Stop Soros” laws in the next phase, the body announced on Thursday.
The commission said they sent the Hungarian government a reasoned opinion, opening the second phase in the procedure.
The procedure allows Hungary two months to harmonise the criticised legislation with European law, or else the commission could file a case with the Court of Justice of the European Union.
“The Hungarian legislation curtails asylum applicants’ right to communicate with and be assisted by relevant national, international and non-governmental organisations by criminalising support to asylum applications. This is in violation of the Asylum Procedures Directive…and the Reception Conditions Directive….” the EC said in the “reasoned opinion”.
Hungarian lawmakers approved the package, dubbed “Stop Soros”, referring to a plan for managing the migrant crisis earlier outlined by US billionaire George Soros, in June 2018.
The package defines support for illegal immigration in the Criminal Code as offering to initiate an application for asylum to anybody who has arrived from, or passed through on the way to Hungary, any country in which that person was not persecuted.
The first offense is treated as a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment up to 90 days; however, repeat offenses and the support of such illegal activity by material means may result in imprisonment for a period of up to one year.
The package also amended the act on asylum rights to prohibit the approval of any application for asylum by a person who has travelled through a country in which they were not persecuted or at risk of serious harm and could have applied there for asylum.
The EC acknowledged on Thursday that EU law provides for the possibility to introduce non-admissibility grounds under the “safe third country” and the “first country of asylum” concepts, but said the Hungarian rules “curtail the right to asylum in a way which is incompatible with the Asylum Qualifications Directive…and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”.
The EC added that provisions in the legislation which prohibit anyone subject to a criminal procedure under the laws from approaching the transit zones at Hungary’s borders “unduly restricts the exercise of free movement rights of EU citizens”.
The infringement procedure was launched in July 2018.
A justice ministry official reacted by saying that in stepping up the procedure, “the Brussels bureaucrats are again looking out for the interests of Soros.” State secretary Pál Volner told MTI that EU leaders in Brussels were still preoccupied with “bringing more and more migrants into Europe” instead of working on protecting the continent’s external borders. “This is why the Stop Soros law … criminalising the organisation and financing of migration is and obstacle in their way,” Volner said. He said the government would not repeal the law, as it reflected the will of the Hungarian people.