EU Parliament Votes to Punish Orban’s Hungary for Breaching Core Values in Unprecedented Decision

EU Parliament Votes to Punish Orban’s Hungary for Breaching Core Values in Unprecedented Decision

In an unprecedented vote, the European Parliament has recommended disciplinary measures against Hungary of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which could include stripping off its EU voting rights, for breaching core values of the European Union.

A total of 448 MEPs voted in favor of triggering sanction procedures against Hungary under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, while 197 MEPs voted against, and 48 abstained.

A day before the vote, in a speech in the European Parliament Orban accused the EU of abuse of power and blackmail.

Since he retook power in Hungary in 2010, Orban has cracked down on media freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and NGOs, in what have been widely criticized as authoritarian measures.

At the same time, however, he has been in conflict with the EU establishment over his opposition to the EU’s receiving of large numbers of migrants from the Middle East since 2015.

With its vote, the European Parliament recommended to the European Council, the body made up of the leaders of all EU member states, that disciplinary measures be undertaken against Hungary under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, including the option of stripping it of its voting rights.

Article 7 provides for suspending a member state’s rights if “there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values referred to in Article 2”, namely, “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

The European Parliament said it was concerned pressure on courts and the judiciary in Hungary, as well as problems with the constitutional and electoral system, privacy and data protection, freedom of expression and religion, academic freedom and freedom of association, and equal rights, particularly for refugees and minorities such as Roma and Jews.

MEP Judith Sargentini, who initiated the debate to punish Hungary under Article 7, said in her report that many of the actions of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party were “a clear breach of the values of our union”.

“It is up to the European leaders to take their responsibility and stop watching from the sidelines as the rule of law is destroyed in Hungary. This is unacceptable for a union that is built on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights,” Sargentini stated.

Orban’s anti-migrant stance has been giving reasons to allege that he is the target of constant EU criticism because of the opposition to migration policies, rather than any other abuses damaging democracy, breaking the rule of law, and violating EU principles.

His government reacted in a similar fashion to the unprecedented EU Parliament decision, as Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto angrily called it the “petty revenge” of “pro-immigration” politicians, as cited by BBC News.

Szijjarto said Hungary’s Cabinet was considering legal ways to challenge the EP decision, and argued abstaining votes should have been counted in as well, which would have resulted in a different outcome.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who delivered his last State of the Union speech in the EP before the vote, said he had “given up” on trying to reason with Orban on his hardline policies, as cited by DW.

“I constantly explain to Viktor Orban that this radical rhetoric he’s directing towards Europe helps neither him nor Europe,” Juncker said.

The final decision on punitive measures against Hungary now goes the national leaders of the EU member states in the European Council. However, it requires unanimity, and would likely be blocked by Poland whose conservative government is also under EU criticism for undermining the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

(Banner image: Jean-Claude Juncker on Twitter)

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