Orbán’s former Justice Minister nominated to be in charge of EU’s enlargement

Laszlo Trocsanyi; Photo: Ministry of Justice of Hungary

BRUSSELS – Despite rumours that Dubravka Šuica of Croatia or Janez Lenarčič of Slovenia are going to be nominated for the Neighbourhood and Enlargement portfolio in the new European Commission, in the end the nomination went to László Trócsányi who served as Minister of Justice of Hungary in the government of Viktor Orbán between 2014 and 2018.

Trócsányi, who became a member of the European Parliament in May 2019, was the Minister of Justice during the times of highly controversial courts reform that was criticized for limiting the powers of the judiciary, as well as adoption of the laws that criminalised NGOs for helping refugees and limited academic freedom, leading to Central European University’s decision to leave Budapest, The Guardian reports.

Because of this, some MEPs have expressed concerns over his fitness to serve as Commissioner for any portfolio, and he will apparently have a hard time during the mandatory hearings in front of the relevant Committees of the European Parliament.

“Quite frankly, given the track record of this government and this minister, it seems purely hypothetical he will ever pass the basic test,” stated Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld for The Guardian recently.

The European Parliaments has to confirm the European Commission as a whole before its mandate officially begins on 1 November, but in ’t Veld does not believe the path for Trócsányi is clear.

“It is my expectation that he will get a very rough ride in parliament”, she stated.

Some have even suggested that Trócsányi’s candidacy is intended to fail.

“My two cents on László Trócsányi: Orbán proposes his justice minister as a slap to the EU knowing he will not pass the vote in the EP. The real question is who is the reserve candidate?”, wrote Srđan Cvijić, Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels and Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) member, on Twitter.

What kind of message for the Western Balkans?

In her Mission Letter to Trócsányi, President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen wrote that he will be in charge of maintaining a credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans, including speeding up structural and institutional reforms, with a strong focus on the fundamentals of the rule of law, economic development and public administration reforms.

“You should also support all efforts in the fight against corruption across the region and support all efforts towards good neighbourly relations and the resolution of bilateral disputes”, wrote von der Leyen.

Even though Commissioners are expected to work in the interest of the EU and not their national government, some believe that, due to his background, Trócsányi’s nomination is nevertheless an unwelcome news for the Western Balkans.

“As I feared, László Trócsányi, will be in charge of enlargement. As an accessory in dismantling rule of law in Orban’s Hungary, he should not be in the Commission, in charge of enlargement, he lacks credibility to skeptics in EU and rule of law agenda in Western Balkans”, tweeted Florian Bieber, Professor at the University of Graz and Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group coordinator in the wake of the news.

Hungary has famously been supportive of the acceleration of the Western Balkan’s, and especially Serbia’s, path towards the EU, ignoring the reports on deteriorating state of rule of law and democracy in the region.

The country itself has been downgraded to the status of partially free countries on the Freedom in the World Index accumulated by Freedom House. The European Parliament voted to trigger the process of sanctions against Hungary last year for undermining EU’s core values of rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom expression.

Before becoming an MEP in 2019, Trócsányi never held a European office. He was, however, the country’s Ambassador to France and Belgium, member of the Constitutional Court as well as Venice Commission of the Council of Europe from 2005 to 2013.