Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

European Union lawmakers vote to punish Hungary for undermining democratic values

European Union lawmakers vote to punish Hungary for undermining democratic values

With 448 votes in favour, 197 against and 48 abstentions, the motion passed in the Strasbourg plenary session on Wednesday, the first time the European legislature has triggered "Article 7" procedure against an EU member state.

Even some members of the European People's Party bloc - which Orban's Fidesz movement belongs to - voted against their ally in Budapest. The European Commission launched Article 7 proceedings against Poland a year ago that have yet to reach the European Parliament.

With the vote, the EP endorsed the report of Green MEP Judith Sargentini, which said recent developments in Hungary represent a systematic threat to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the country and constitute a clear risk of a serious breach of European Union values.

Defending his country in a speech on Tuesday, Orban hit out at a report commissioned by the European Parliament that accused Hungary's government of corruption, undermining democracy, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression, and the rights of migrants, refugees and minorities - calling it "blackmail".

Hungary suffered a sharp rebuke from MEPs today who voted overwhelmingly to impose sanctions against Viktor Orban's government amid claims that it has undermined human rights.

He said it has sent MEPs and European Union countries a 100-plus page rebuttal of Sargentini's "false" charges and that Orban will give a robust, but brief defence on Tuesday. 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. "Now it is up to European leaders to take responsibility and stop watching from the sidelines as the rule of law is destroyed in Hungary".

Other EU governments could halt any further action, however, and Poland - a fellow ex-communist state that is also facing an Article 7 procedure - has warned it would do so.

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Kovacs also suggested that the alliance with Fidesz boosts the EPP's appeal to European voters.

"The big issue is how the EPP will vote, particularly Mr. Weber", said Maria Joao Rodrigues, a leading Portuguese member of the Socialists and Democrats group, which supports the motion.

"We will not accept compromises on the core of our democratic values and principles".

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.

However, a unanimous vote is required to suspend Hungary's voting rights and launch sanctions - a move that is likely to be blocked by Poland.

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.

"Our perspective is something that would help the EPP remain the strongest political community or group in the European Parliament", Kovacs said.

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