MEPs due to vote on Hungary sanctions
MEPs are making their final arguments on whether Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “illiberal” government should be subject to the European Union’s strictest sanctions for threatening democracy and the rule of law.
A committee of MEPs said the Hungarian government’s approach to migration, including a new law which criminalises lawyers and activists who help asylum seekers, as well as on the media, courts and universities breach EU rules.
The 751-seat parliament has never voted to trigger Article 7 of the EU treaty against a member state, which could ultimately lead to the suspension of a government’s voting rights within the bloc.
Orban is due to speak at the European Parliament in Strasbourg today (Tuesday), a day before the vote. Two-thirds of MEPs need to agree that Hungary poses a “clear risk of a serious breach” of the bloc’s values to initiate the process.
Orban and his Fidesz party say many of the EU accusations against them on issues over the rule of law were resolved long ago.
Hungarian ministers and the pro-government media speak of a witch hunt against Fidesz because it stood up for national sovereignty against what they call is a liberal elite.
The European Commission has already backed an Article 7 process to sanction the parallel populist Law and Justice party in Poland.
Sanctions against Hungary are unlikely as a unanimous decision would be required. But the parliamentary vote will test the EU’s commitment to defend its values before MEPs face re-election next year.
The move puts the European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-right political group which forms the largest coalition in the parliament, under scrutiny as Orban’s Fidesz party is a member it has until recently shielded from criticism.
“The outcome of the vote will depend on EPP members of the European Parliament,” said Otilia Dhand of political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence. “The relationship between the EPP and Fidesz is increasingly strained, and the pressure to expel the Hungarian party from the group is mounting.”
If MEPs do decide to support the process, which could end up with Hungary being monitored by the commission, it may be a very slow process, with parliamentary elections due to disrupt the proceedings.
Orban, the Eurosceptic populist leader, was re-elected earlier this year after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform, with Fidesz winning two-thirds of parliamentary seats, thanks in part to a heavily divided opposition.
Hungary’s treatment of migrants is under scrutiny. Picture credit: Flickr