EU parliament votes to punish Hungary over 'breaches' of core values
[September 12 2018]
Viktor Orban launched an impassioned
defence on Tuesday - but it was not enough
The European Parliament has voted to
pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary over alleged
breaches of the EU's core values.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been
accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law -
charges which he denies.
More than two-thirds of MEPs backed the censure motion
- the first such vote against a member state under EU rules.
If also approved by national leaders, Hungary could
face punitive measures.
They include stripping the country of voting rights at
European Union level.
What is Hungary accused of?
Since coming to power, Mr Orban's government has taken
a hardline stance against immigration. It introduced a law which made it
a criminal offence for lawyers and activists to help asylum seekers,
under the banner of "facilitating illegal immigration".
But there have also been reports of pressure being put
on the courts and the electoral system, and of widespread corruption.
After the vote, the European Parliament said it was
also concerned about:
The constitutional and electoral system
Privacy and data protection
Freedom of expression and religion
Academic freedom and freedom of association
Equal rights, particularly for refugees and minorities
such as Roma and Jews
Mr Orban addressed the parliament on Tuesday in
defence of his government, labelling the threat of censure as a form of
"blackmail" and an insult to Hungary.
Judith Sargentini, author of the report on Hungary,
was greeted with applause after the vote
He claimed a report by Dutch Greens MEP Judith
Sargentini was an "abuse of power", and included "serious factual
Ms Sargentini's report into Hungary's ruling Fidesz
party alleged such actions were "a clear breach of the values of our
Centre-right split over Hungary action
Analysis by BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming
The opposition to Viktor Orban received a boost last
night when Manfred Weber, leader of the European Parliament's
centre-right group the European People's Party (EPP), lost patience with
his erstwhile ally and announced he would vote to trigger Article 7.
But it has created a split within the EPP because
Forza Italia, some Bulgarians, a few Germans and assorted others gave
their backing to Budapest.
Most British Conservative MEPs supported the Hungarian
government, arguing that the EU had intruded into purely national
matters, although there are suspicions it was done to secure Hungary's
support in the Brexit process.
However, this episode might not bother Mr Orban at
all, as it boosts his image back home as a scourge of the European
What could happen now?
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.
However, Hungary is currently facing "preventative"
measures, which the parliament says are designed to avoid sanctions
The BBC Reality Check team has explained the Article 7
process in detail. Broadly, the decision on Hungary will now be referred
to the heads of the 28 EU member states to consider.
However, because this step has never been taken
before, it is not clear what will happen next, or when.
Suspension of Hungary's voting rights is the most
serious possible consequence - but is considered unlikely.
Poland is also facing disciplinary proceedings,
launched by the European Commission in December last year. The case has
yet to reach the European Parliament.
What has the reaction been?
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reacted
angrily to the vote, calling it the "petty revenge" of "pro-immigration"
Some politicians from other countries also defended Mr
Orban's government. Britain's Nigel Farage, a pro-Brexit MEP, wrote that
the decision demonstrated "the authoritarian grip of the EU".Anti-Islam
Dutch populist Geert Wilders tweeted: "Hungary is the example for all EU
countries and Orban is a hero and deserves the Nobel Prize."
But Ms Sargentini, who wrote the report on Mr Orban's
government, said the decision sent an important message that the EU
would stand up for citizens' rights.
"Viktor Orban's government has been leading the charge
against European values by silencing independent media, replacing
critical judges, and putting academia on a leash," she said.
"Individuals close to the government have been
enriching themselves, their friends and family members at the expense of
Hungarian and European taxpayers. The Hungarian people deserve better."
Amnesty International's expert on human rights in the
EU, Berber Biala-Hettinga, hailed the vote as "historic".
"The European Parliament rightly stood up for the
Hungarian people and for the EU. They made it clear that human rights,
the rule of law and democratic values are not up for negotiation," she
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European
Commission, said that he would have voted for the measure if he was an
"The European Commission is using the tools we have,
launching infringement procedures against countries that don't respect
EU law. [I] am in harmony with today's decision," he said through a
spokeswoman's Twitter account.
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