MEPs demand triggering Article 7 against Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party was declared winner of the 08 April general elections securing 48.5 percent of the vote. [EPA-EFE/Lajos Soos]

MEPs are demanding the launch of an infringement procedure against Hungary for breaching ‘core EU values’, just days after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s sweeping election success.

The demand is made in a draft report by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, published on Thursday (12 April), which lists 12 breaches. These include the weakening of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary, corruption, restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and intimidation of the media, non-governmental organizations and research institutions.

It also expresses concerns over violations of fundamental rights of refugees and minorities.

Due to “the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded”, the report calls on EU leaders to trigger Article 7 of the EU treaty, a process that could end with the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights.

Article 7, nicknamed the Nuclear Option, has already been instigated against Poland, another ex-communist Eastern member, but has so far been stuck in the preliminary stages, with little appetite among other countries to activate sanctions procedures.

“The time of merely issuing warnings has passed. We need to stand up for the Hungarian people whose rights have been undermined by their government,” Green MEP Judith Sargentini, who authored the report, said in a video statement.

In the report, Sargentini stated that the “facts and trends” of her findings “represent a systemic threat to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary.”

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Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Tuesday (10 April) that his resounding election win, challenged by the opposition, shows that voters want to stop US billionaire philanthropist George Soros interfering in the country.

It is the first time that an MEP has given official advice to start an Article 7 procedure.

The Civil Liberties Committee was tasked in May 2017 with assessing whether an infringement procedure against Hungary would be appropriate.

Since then, the Dutch rapporteur and her colleagues have conducted a series of interviews with experts, academics, representatives of the Hungarian government, the Venice Commission and NGOs, and evaluated documents on the state of the rule of law in the country.

“We have been seeing for years that Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, is shifting aside all the standards and values of the European Union,” said another Green MEP, Bart Staes.

“Various investigations by independent international organizations show that the Hungarian rule of law has rapidly deteriorated due to the policies of the Hungarian government,” Staes said, adding that “if a country clearly no longer subscribes to the shared values, it must be acted upon before it goes down to an authoritarian regime.”

Timmermans urges quick solution to Poland's court reform dispute

Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans on Monday (9 April) urged Poland to step up efforts at finding a solution to a high-pitched dispute over its controversial judicial reforms, denounced by Brussels as violating the rule of law.

The Committee will vote on Sargentini’s proposal in June. The report will then be put to a vote by the Parliament in September. To be adopted, it will need two-thirds of the votes cast and an absolute majority of MEPs.

However, it is unlikely that the report will have any real consequences for Budapest. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party belongs to the conservative European People’s Party, the most powerful camp in the Parliament, which has so far been reluctant to condemn Orban’s policies.

Moreover, a suspension of voting rights has to be agreed in unanimity. Hungary has already said it would veto any such attempt against Poland, and Warsaw is likely to reciprocate in support of Budapest. But there is also a possibility of voting Article 7 on Poland and Hungary simultaneously, and in this case both countries have no right to vote.

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