European Union votes overwhelmingly to take action against Hungary for undermining democratic norms

14 September, 2018, 15:58 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Opposition to Orban's vision does not just come from the left as there is disquiet in the main centre right European People's Party, about his position despite the grouping including his Fidesz party

M - Members of the European Parliament traded verbal blows with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a debate Tuesday over democracy and the rule of law in his country, CNN reports.

Mitsotakis's party, New Democracy, is in the same conservative bloc in the European Parliament as Orban's, the European People's Party (EPP). The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, launched Article 7 proceedings against Poland previous year over its judicial reforms.

But Judith Sargentini, who is spearheading the vote on whether to take action against Hungary, told fellow MEPs that the time had come for them to make an "important choice" after eight years under Orban.

If approved, the motion would theoretically open the way for sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the European Union - but in practice that is sure to be blocked by Orban's ally, the nationalist government in Poland.

"Hungary shall not bow to blackmail", said Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party was re-elected with a landslide majority last April.

Critics say that Hungary's electoral system is disproportionate; media freedoms and judicial independence are dwindling; asylum-seekers and refugees are mistreated and there are limits placed on non-governmental organizations.

"Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration and defend its rights", said Orban, who embraces a vision of a Christian Europe and opposes an influx of Muslim and other migrants.

The EPP group, the largest in the parliament, on Tuesday evening, held a meeting with Orban, after which their leader, Manfred Weber announced he would vote in favour of launching the procedure.

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Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, echoing Orban's longtime position, called the Wednesday's vote "petty revenge" against Hungary for its tough anti-migration policies and said the vote involved "massive fraud" because abstentions were not included into the final count, which made it easier to reach the needed majority. He has also waged a vociferous campaign against Hungarian-born, Jewish American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and the liberal causes he backs in formerly-communist eastern Europe.

Aside from its anti-immigrant stance, Orban's government is also accused of silencing independent media and academia, removing independent judges, cracking down on organisations helping homeless people, migrants or disadvantaged groups, such as Roma, and condoning government corruption.

Under Article 7, the European Council, or heads of national governments, may declare that there is a risk of a serious breach of European values by a member state.

But Weber, a close ally of Merkel, also spoke of "building bridges" with Hungary and noted the EU's failure to take action in a similar rule-of-law case against Poland.

A group of United Nations human rights experts on Tuesday expressed concern [press release] regarding Hungary's new immigration measures.

Dubbed so-called "nuclear option", article 7 of the European Union treaty is a mechanism for the European Union to steer wayward members back toward the values on which the world's largest trading bloc were founded, including respect for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

And Timmermans told Orban "if you want to be a member of a club you have to abide by the rules", saying the Commission would take Hungary to court if it found it had violated European Union rules.

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