On Tragic Accidents and Straightforward Commissioners

2013. április 18. 17:08

Viviane Reding has a sense for politics, clearly. But if she aspires to become one of the leading figures of European politics – and in her straightforward way, she does – then she should demonstrate a sense for diplomacy too.

Viviane Reding is well-known for her straightforward nature. Building a political career that spans from her hometown in Luxembourg to the top circles of the European Commission has required, no doubt, some straightforwardness. She displayed her straightforward way while drafting a vision for the future of Europe. And she has shown that straightforward way in her nack for getting mixed up in political conflicts that could have been avoided with a little more sense of diplomacy. Recall for example her comments in 2010 following France’s mass expulsion of Roma: “This is a situation,” she said, “I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.”

Now Hungary finds itself in the commissioner’s sights. Certainly the Commission has a legitimate responsibility to examine the changes in Hungary’s judicial system and take a closer look at the quite rapid lawmaking underway in Budapest. The problem comes when a commissioner turns a judicial enforcement issue into a political issue – and a chance for a political fight.

And that is what has happened in the so-called Tobin Affair. An Irish national named Francis Ciaran Tobin was responsible for an automobile accident in Hungary back in 2000, in which the car he was driving struck and killed two children. Tobin was tried and convicted in a Hungarian court and sentenced, in 2002, to three years in prison, but he fled home to Ireland and never served out his sentence. Thirteen years have passed since the tragic accident but – in spite of the legal efforts of the family of two children and the Hungarian authorities – Ireland has not arrested or extradited Tobin, citing legal technicalities. We’ve heard noises recently that that may be changing, but back to that in a moment.

What has the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship had to say about the fact that Tobin still walks free? In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Reding said, “Personally, I was not surprised – after all, this was precisely during the time when many decisions were taken in Hungary which raised serious questions about the independence of the Hungarian justice system.”

Nothing justifies Commissioner Reding’s words. No serious political conflicts, no differences of views on Europe and cooperation among member states. Nothing merits her drawing a link between the unsolved Tobin Affair and current questions over Hungarian judicial reform. Absurdly, Commissioner Reding is apparently more anxious about the Hungarian courts than the hapless Mr. Tobin and his lawyers ever were. They never questioned the independence of the Hungarian judicial system.

In fact, recently, just weeks after Madame Commissioner’s remarks, Mr Tobin himself indicated that he may now finally be willing to begin serving his sentence. He has asked that he be able to serve out his time in prison in Ireland. Hungary’s Minister of Justice Tibor Navracsics, underlining that the procedures for extradition between EU countries are clear, has assured that after he begins serving the sentence in Hungary, Tobin will be extradited to Ireland as soon as possible.

So it would appear that the case is finally – we hope – being resolved, despite the commissioner. What a pity that the European guardian of the justice system chose to use this opportunity for a political attack on a member state instead of helping to find a quicker solution to this tragic legal case. Viviane Reding has a sense for politics, clearly. But if she aspires to become one of the leading figures of European politics – and in her straightforward way, she does – well, then she should demonstrate a sense for diplomacy too.

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