European Union lawmakers say yes to disciplinary action against Hungary

Frederick Owens
September 14, 2018

Lawmakers will vote Wednesday on a proposal to launch the rule-of-law procedure, based on a report by the European Union parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, that could lead to Hungary losing its European Union voting rights under a process known as Article 7.

In the unprecedented move, 448 MEPs voted in favour of launching the so-called "Article 7" procedure, 197 against and with 48 abstentions, the EP referred Hungary to the other member states to check the health of the country's democracy.

The report under consideration criticises his government's restrictions on the freedom of the media, academics and NGOs, its ill treatment of minority groups, refugees and asylum seekers, and its meddling with the judicial and electoral systems.

It is a unclear however whether the 750-strong legislature can muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the motion finding that Hungary has persistently breached the European Union core values under Orban.

He also claimed that the vote involved "massive fraud" since abstentions weren't counted into the final tally, which made it easier to reach the needed majority.

But Dan Dalton, the Conservative's home affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, said: "This report crosses a boundary by politicising what should be a purely legal matter".

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has told European Parliament that Brussels' actions against Budapest "violates the EU treaty". "The Hungarian people deserve better. They deserve freedom of speech, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and equality, all of which are enshrined in the European treaties".

"We welcome the European Parliament's decision to defend the rule of law and confront the Hungarian government's attempts to shut down civil society and independent voices in the media and academia", said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute.

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The European Parliament is expected to vote on a sanctions procedure that would suspend Hungary's right to vote in all European Institutional bodies, a potential move that caused Orban to lash out at the lawmakers.

To become the first-ever case of the European Parliament asking EU capitals to launch the punitive mechanism against one of their own, it must win the backing of at least 376 lawmakers and two thirds of the votes cast.

A year ago the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, launched similar steps under article seven against Poland over its alleged threat to the independence of the courts. - These sanctions should be specifically directed against the Hungarian government.

"To say that criticizing laws, criticizing the government would amount to criticizing a nation or a people, frankly speaking Mr. Orban, that's the coward's way out", Timmermans said near the end of the debate.

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.

Also on Tuesday night Orban also faced the prospect of his party being kicked out of the right-wing party group in the European parliament.

Their decision was made even more contentious when members of the EPP, the centre-right political group of Orban's Fidesz party, announced Tuesday that they would support the report.

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