Hungarian NGOs say Article 7 vote is also about alerting other EU members

Participants march during the Hungarian opposition party Momentum Movement's anti-government protest in downtown Budapest, Hungary, 1 May 2018. [Zoltan Balogh/EPA/EFE]

The European Parliament will vote next week on a proposal to trigger Article 7 against Hungary. Hungarian civil society leaders threw their weight behind the proposal on Wednesday (5 September), saying it was the last chance to defend democracy in Hungary.

MEPs will debate on 11 September a report by MEP Judith Sargentini (Greens, Netherlands) ) on whether Article 7 should be triggered over the existence of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the EU is founded.

This will be followed by a vote the next day, after Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech. If two-thirds of the MEPs vote in favour of triggering Article 7, the Council will be able to take the decision by a four-fifths majority.

MEPs call on Parliament to trigger Article 7 procedure against Hungary

The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) recommended on Monday (June 25) triggering an Article 7 procedure against Hungary for breaching the fundamental values of the Union under Viktor Orbán’s rule.

Representatives of Amnesty International Hungary, the Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee spoke at an event organised by the Open Society Policy Institute in Brussels.

As the event was public, Márta Pardavi of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee said she expected that their faces would be published by government-aligned media the very next day and that they would be called traitors.

Stefánia Kapronczay of the Civil Liberties Union added that despite such labelling, they were convinced that their work benefits the Hungarian citizens.

Targeting individuals as enemies of the state

Besides targeting civil society organisations, the Hungarian government has recently turned against individuals. On 12 April, just four days after the elections Viktor Orbán won by a landslide, a pro-government magazine published an article titled “The Speculator’s People”, which contained a list of 200 people who allegedly work for the “Soros organisations”. The NGO representatives present at the Brussels event were on the list.

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“It’s no longer about organisations, it’s about people they call “the Soros mercenaries”, Kapronczay said.

Áron Demeter of Amnesty International Hungary recounted an even more infamous story – of unpaid student volunteers who were photographed and their faces were published by pro-government media, labelled as “enemies of the state”.

Demeter said Article 7 was not about sanctioning Hungary, but about signalling the Hungarian government that their policies are no longer tolerated by the Union of which Hungary is a member.

Kapronczay said the European Parliament vote is about the protection of the EU’s core values.

Pardavi recalled that after the fall of the Berlin wall, Hungary was at the forefront of those upholding the EU values and the vote was the last chance to stop the ongoing reversal, and possibly one of the last opportunities to send a signal that the EU puts its values first.

She also said the debate about triggering Article 7 would serve “to alert the others” and to discuss “what kind of Europe we want”.

“Every day, the reality in Hungary is becoming similar to Moscow, Ankara,” she said. The vote, she argued, was the last chance to defend democracy in Hungary and all the more important as the Hungarian illiberal model has been “copied successfully in the EU”.

Pardavi said there had been expectations that after the elections, Orbán’s government will switch from the campaign mode to a less aggressive governing mode but this did not happen.

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Asked if EPP, the centre-right political family and the biggest political group in Parliament, should expel Orbán’s Fidesz from its ranks, Demeter said he would refrain from giving advice to political parties.

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