Recent statements by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that the death penalty might be a solution in the fight against crime have today led to a showdown in the European Parliament.
Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans indicated his willingness to use the mechanism foreseen in Article 7 TFEU and push for a suspension of Hungary’s membership rights, should the country re-introduce the death penalty. Rather unimpressed by this threat, Orbán replied that attempts by the Commission to control what may be, or not be, discussed in Hungary are “themselves a violation of the EU’s founding principles”. He also pointed out that the current prohibition of the death penalty in EU law are “not a Divine commandment, but a man-made rule that can be changed.” EP President Martin Schulz, otherwise not known for his scholarship regarding Divine commandments, said that “this debate surely is not about God’s commandments – but I know one that says ‘thou shalt not kill’.” (Strangely, he never quotes that commandment in debates on abortion, which costs the lives of innocent babies rather than dangerous criminals…)
EU law clearly prohibits Member States from using the death penalty. However, it is quite uncertain whether this prohibition represents one of the EU’s core “values”. Rather than pushing for a suspension of Hungary’s rights as a Member State, the Commission might in such a case be better advised to use the normal infringement procedures.