Portfolio blogger

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why does the EU finance the Orban regime?

I hear this question more and more often. The Hungarian government plans to use all EU funds available for the 2014-2020 programming cycle till 2019 (mainly before the 2018 parliamentary elections and the 2019 municipal elections. This may mean 6 billion euros every year or even more
These amounts help to keep the system running. They amount to about 4% of GDP at the moment, may be as much as 6% according to the ambition plans, thus they are the source of the 2-3% growth (and may increase it to 4-5% per year in the future) with which the goverment boosts.
Apart from the legal problems which hinder the decrease or withdrawal of these funds, the workings and the logic of the EU does not enable to withdraw them.
I do not agree, by the way, that these funds should be withdrawn. These are used for good purposes, beyond some publicity actions like fancy pavements on the main squares of villages, fountains and other, well publicised useless projects. They make it possible to revamp the university clinics in Budapest, a lot of seqage and other utilities reconstruction in the slums and in rural cities, technology and building improvements for schools, transport reconstruction and renewal (all these are concrete projects taking place). And without the EU, the "small circles of liberty" we still have, would not excist or be much more limited. The Orbán (FIDESZ) government retreated on the media law, on forced premature retirement of judges, publicity taxes killing the biggest independent TV-station and much more.
It is still worth understanding, how the EU works. It is not a superstate (it is supranational, true, but neither a state, nor super), it is rather a co-operation framework. The Commission is more a regulatory agency then a government, inparticular not in the sense of the executive branch of most European parliamentary democracies (where the party or coalition giving the executive is also in majority in the Parliament and thus, as the goverment implements the party programme in theory, it is able to gain every vote in the parliament.
I do not think the basics need explanation here: the European Parliament has no governing party or coalition, all decisions require approval from the Council, which consists of the heads of state or government (the head of the executive according to the legal system of each country) of the member states, Commission implementing decisions (very limited and only possible when the directive or regulation voted by the Parliament and the Council foresees it) are reached through consultation with committees of experts of the member states and are subject to validation by the legislative (although ex post).
In my view the EU has three, relatively distinct coordination domains (not identical to the pre-Lisbon three pillars, though not unrelated):
First the common market - this requires a lot of harmonisation concerning product standards, like quality and security requirements. I would classify the land-based and porduction agricultural support and agricultural market regulation measures here. Trade and competition issues also belong here.
Secondly political co-operation which is first of all a way to increase the weight of Europe in the world compared to tis individual member states. Of course for this we have to talk with one voice- therefore a harmonisation of opinions is necessary, sometimes some countries have to accept that their opinions are not represented - of course this only works if there are common goals. This is the practical reason why this only works when there are shared values (of course all political co-operation requires common values an the values of Europe are noble and on the long term they ensure a lot of benefits, but let's stay on a practical ground.
Thirdly, the interest of good co-operation and the common values also lead to the recognition that too big deviations in the level of development are unfavourable and thus it is in the interest of the richer countries to help the poorer ones to develop, to approach them in living standards, technical and social level. The structural funds are the means for that. Let us not go into the debate how much of thesse funds are used in the donor countries as goods and services are provided in exchange and similarly an argument could be brought up that the awarding and managing authorities both also have an interest to favour local suppliers. Formally speaking there is no possibility to promote neither donor country nor local suppliers, but if one of these is possible, the other is also.
This interest of leveling is independent whether a country "behaves well" in the political arena. Legally it is clearly separated, but it is also not practical - a higher level of economic development and integration can also foster sharing of values but not the other way: cutting funds leads to resentment and even lower sharing of values.
We do not like the practice of the government in Hungary that economic support depends on whether someone agrees with the politics of the government - why do we expect that from the EU? We have to solve our problems ourselves, not rely on blackmail by outsiders to do it for us.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Both the Council of the EU and the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament accepted the compromise text of the new General Data Protection Regulation which will be formally voted on plenary and then in the Council early 2016 to come into force in 2018.
The compromise text is available here.

Some important issues (based on the first analyses http://www.ashfords.co.uk/the-new-eu-general-data-protection-regulation-is-finally-here/; http://www.natlawreview.com/article/general-eu-data-protection-regulation-bullet-points)

The most publicised change is maybe the formal inclusion of the "right to be forgotten" : that even when processing (mainly in the case of publishing) date was legitimate originally, with time the interest of privacy of the data subject may override the interest of processing (the public to know, for example).
All companies processing data of residents of the EU are subject to the regulation, whether seated in the EU or not.
Some points enhance the responsibility of the controllers (who determine the prupose and means of the data processing and are primarily responsible for it and usually most interested also) and processors (who act on instructions of the controller). The latter are explicitly responsible for their actions and can directly (without instruction of the controller) be instructed by the courts or by the data protection authorities.
Nomination of a data protection officer, stricter rules for consent of the data subjects to processing their data, the risks to the data subjects must be assessed before processing their data - with reasonable limits of proportionality. This risk analysis gives companies the possibility on the other hand to define themselves what security measures are adequate.
The research community noticed with relief that those points which they thought would hinder scientific (mainly medical) research were softened. However, there are restrictions: pseudonymised data remain personal data, for example with the resulting responsibility and rules to be complied with.
The much heralded "one stop shop" - making it easier for the data subjects to complain in case of cross-boarder processing of their data - gave some way to convenience of the authorities but basically stayed in the text.
A compromise was found between the Parliament (who wanted 5% of turnover) and the Council (who wanted 2) about maximum fines: it will be 4%.
Privacy by design is another new concept enshrined in the new regulation.
Transfer of data, possibility to base processing personal data on legitimate interest of the controller and data portability (the possibility of the data subject to request transmitting his/her data to another controller, for example in the case of changing a service provider) is also better defined.