Published: Sat, September 15, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

European Union parliament votes to stop Hungary 'threat' to democracy

European Union parliament votes to stop Hungary 'threat' to democracy

Poland's foreign ministry has voiced "concern" after Eurodeputies on Wednesday backed a plan to trigger a punitive procedure against Hungary amid accusations of flouting European Union rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption. The vote was based on a report that voiced concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, religious freedom, and the rights of minorities and refugees under eight years of Orban rule.

Commenting on Tuesday's EP debate, he said he found it "hard to believe" that someone like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán could sit through a "modern-day version of a communist show trial with people standing up and pointing the finger and shouting at him".

The Hungarian prime minister received harsh criticism, even within his own political family.

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. However, the vote has little chance of ending up with the ultimate penalty of Hungary being suspended from voting in the EU.

If launched by the European Council, these procedures will put in place a series of mechanisms created to protect against the breach in terms agreed to by the member state when they joined the European Union. The vote that passed on a 448 to 197 with 48 abstentions, leaves the Eastern European country open to disciplinary measures that may include revocation of voting rights.

Dominant at home and a figurehead for populist and nationalist figures across Europe, Orban suffered a rare defeat Wednesday when the assembly in Strasbourg voted to take legal action against Hungary under Article Seven of the European Union's treaty.

"This is an invalid report, that has no legal outcome", Szajer said.

Despite the possibility of sanctions, Orban vowed to defy the European Parliament, saying "Hungary will not accede to this blackmailing. and if needed we will stand up to you".

The European Union accuses Budapest in violation of the rule of law, in particular the harassment of non-governmental organizations.

Dutch Greens MEP Judith Sargentini, who spearheaded the vote, smiled broadly and breathed a sigh of relief before embracing parliament supporters in the French city of Strasbourg.

However, Hungary has other supporters within the EU.

Under an EU rule called Article 7, breaching the union's founding principles can lead to the suspension of a member state's rights as a punitive measure. "They made it clear that human rights, the rule of law and democratic values are not up for negotiation", she said.

The vote represents a particular challenge for EPP's German head Manfred Weber since he announced his bid for the presidency of the EU's executive Commission next year.

Following Wednesday's vote the EPP may consider whether to eject Fidesz, though that would be a hard procedure.

Opposition to Orban's vision does not just come from the left, with disquiet also in the main centre-right parliamentary group, the European People's Party (EPP).

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