The European Parliament has decided to draw up a report on whether EU laws and values are respected in Hungary, after Budapest passed controversial state reforms that are widely seen as undemocratic. MEPs will later decide whether to activate Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which is used to investigate breaches of EU values.
The resolution – tabled by centre-left and left political groups – was approved 315-263 with 49 abstentions.
It drew strong criticism from the centre-right European People's Party to which the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is affiliated.
The four-page resolution calls on the European Commission to closely monitor the changes to some of Hungary's basic laws and how it puts them into practice.
MEPs have called on the Conference of Presidents – the leaders of the Parliament and its political groups – to consider activating Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which is used in the event of a clear risk of a serious breach of EU common values.
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, was the first to call for making use of Article 7 in the case of Hungary. [More on the content of the resolution].
The resolution was backed by ALDE, along with the Socialists and Democrats, the Greens/European Free Alliance and the European United Left.
Deadline expires today
The European Commission on 17 January began infringement procedures against Hungary, focusing on concerns about the independence of the central bank and data protection authority, as well as the lowering of the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 62 years.
The Commission also asked the Hungarian authorities for further information on the judiciary and whether recent changes in law compromised its independence.
The Hungarian government was given one month to respond, with the deadline expiring today (17 February). Recently, Hungarian representatives said that the country would accept most revisions demanded by the Commission, even where it considers the EU executive to be wrong.
Parliament attack 'premature'
The EPP group blasted the sponsors of the resolution for "making a judgement before the end of the process".
"This is the authoritarian method. This is the method which is against European values," declared MEP Kinga Gál (Hungary).
Simon Busuttil of Malta said the resolution "undermines the Hungarian people's trust in the EU and the credibility of the European Parliament".
"These actions nourish the emergence of political extremism and Euro-scepticism. This is against the interest of the EU as a whole," Busuttil stated.
Commissioner Kroes under fire
The debate and vote took place after Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes made controversial statements at a recent hearing in Parliament on the situation in Hungary.
The Digital Agenda commissioner quoted an unnamed colleague as stating that discrimination against ethnic minorities was rife in Hungary and getting worse. Minority groups were discriminated against when they sought employment, police were under instruction to monitor them, and racism in schools was becoming more open and more accepted, Kroes said, adding that some ethnic groups were living in fear of violent attacks.
Hungarian MEP Lívia Járóka (EPP) said she was shocked to hear "such pernicious allusions from the second highest ranking official of the EU without even the slightest attempt to prove them with facts and reliable data".