EXCLUSIVE / If the democratic drift in Hungary continues, the European Union may consider placing Budapest under the Article 7 procedure of the EU Treaty, which provides for sanctions against a member state, the spokesperson from the European People’s Party (EPP) warned.
Hungary came under fire this week for passing a bill targeting the English-language Central European University (CEU), founded by US billionaire investor George Soros, which has long been seen as a hostile bastion of liberalism by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.
The move triggered a united cross-party wave of indignation in the European Parliament, with EPP Chairman Manfred Weber stressing, “Freedom of thinking, research, and speech are essential for our European identity.
“The EPP group will defend this at any cost.”
Party officials came under pressure to condemn the Fidesz party, which is affiliated to the centre-right EPP group.
EPP spokersperson and MEP Siegfried Muresan told EURACTIV party leaders will discuss the situation with Fidesz at its 29 April presidency meeting.
“The EPP will hold in-depth internal discussions and will follow the outcome of the European Commission’s assessment on the legality of the latest Hungarian law,” the Romanian MEP told EURACTIV.
He went a step further, underlining that sanctions against Budapest were still an option.
“If the situation with Hungary continues, Article 7 might be put on the table,” he warned.
Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which has not been used until now, was designed to defend the EU’s core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. If the EU notices a “serious and persistent breach” of these values it can activate Article 7 and suspend membership rights, such as voting in the EU Council or access to the single market.
But as Article 7 is seen as a “nuclear bomb” – a deterrent that should never be used – the EU introduced the “rule of law” mechanism, under which Poland currently finds itself.
Ask Hungarians if they want EU funds
Referring to the “questionnaire”, Muresan said that the correct question to ask the people of Hungary is “whether they want to continue enjoying all benefits which EU membership has brought to them, including the right to live wherever they want in Europe, to travel freely, to work or study wherever they want and many billions of euros in EU funds”.
The EPP Spokesperson added that more than ten years after Hungary had joined the EU, it was now time to participate fully in the debate over the future of Europe.
“What people want is politicians reforming Europe so that it can solve people’s concerns,” he said.
Hungary has multiplied provocations in recent days by launching an initiative called “Let’s Stop Brussels”.
Questionnaires titled “Let’s stop Brussels!” have been arriving in Hungarian letterboxes since 1 April, only days after leaders gathered in Rome to mark the EU’s 60th anniversary.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday (6 April) said that he did not like the decision on the university closure and stressed that the College of Commissioners would discuss the issue next Wednesday.
Regarding the “Let’s Stop Brussels” questionnaire, he said it was “biased”.
“After reading this biased questionnaire, I would like to better understand Mr. Orbán’s intentions,” Juncker said.