The liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament called on Monday (21 September) for the activation of article 7 of the EU Treaty against Hungary over its handling of refugees.
The punishment, sometimes referred to as “the nuclear bomb”, has never been used before.
The call came on the day the Hungarian parliament passed controversial legislation to deal with the refugee crisis. According to the new law, the government is allowed to deploy the army to handle refugees at the country’s borders. The new law also allows the use of non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas grenades against the migrants.
This package comes two weeks after the adoption of legislative amendments to the asylum and criminal law which could entail the imprisonment and expulsion of those crossing the Hungarian border irregularly. Further measures have been reported, including declaring a state of emergency, prosecuting border trespassers and blacklisting them in the Schengen Information System.
Under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, serious breaches to the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights by a member state can result in a suspension or loss of voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers.
If article 7 is activated, this would mean Hungary would temporarily lose its EU membership rights. But before such a decision can be taken, the Council shall hear the member state in question and may address recommendations.
Sophie In’ t Veld, First Vice-President of the ALDE group, said: “How much further can the Orbán government go before the Commission and Council wake up? ALDE has been ringing the alarm bells about the Hungarian government for many years. Now the situation is spiralling out of control.
It is certainly correct that ALDE has been at the forefront of the controversial policies in Hungary since Victor Orbán became prime minister in 2010, with at that time a two-thirds majority in parliament, which has allowed him to change the constitution and pass legislation criticised by many in Europe.
If the Commission and the Council remain silent, Europe would lose “any remaining credibility as a community of values”, In’t Veld said, adding: “Impunity is the nail in the coffin of the rule of law.”
Louis Michel, a member of the LIBE Committee, added that the refugees were arriving to Europe to escape from bullets, but were now risking their lives facing those of Orbán.
“Viktor Orbán is clearly contravening the treaties. […] When giving the police and the army the possibility of shooting these vulnerable people, who arrive in Europe seeking protection, Orbán denies our most fundamental values. The line has been crossed; article 7 of the Treaty has to be triggered.”
Louis Michel, a veteran Belgian politician who is the father of the country’s Prime Minister Charles Michel, continued, hitting both at the silence of the Commission and at the European Peoples Party to which Orbán’s Fidesz party is affiliated:
“How far will we allow Orbán to plunge his country into this sordid populism and to shame the EU? When will the Commission stop Orbán’s undemocratic extravagances which violate EU values and treaties? The autocratic drift of the Hungarian Prime Minister has now (reached) such proportions that the Commission can no longer hide behind his immobility and passivity”.
“Viktor Orbán continues to dishonor European values, violating our texts. Immediate sanctions should be implemented. As for the EPP, what are they waiting for before putting an end to its collaboration with someone that insults and disfigures the European project?” Michel asked.