European Parliament votes to punish Hungary for erosion of democracy

EU Parliament to Debate Possible Sanctions Against Hungary

The First Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, weighed in on the matter saying the European Commission shared the same concerns as the Parliament about Hungary under Orban and the constant violation of fundamental rights and the rule of law.

A member of the European People's Party (EPP), Orban's right-wing Fidesz party could be left out in the cold as it faces the prospect of being thrown out of the EPP if the European Parliament decides to sanction Hungary.

The motion passed with the required two-thirds majority of 448 MEPs backing the declaration that Hungary is at "clear risk of serious breach" of European Union core values, including judicial independence, academic freedom and freedom of expression.

Under Article 7 of the European Union treaty, breaching the bloc's founding principles can lead to the suspension of a member state's rights as a punitive measure.

"This decision condemning Hungary and the Hungarian people was made because we Hungarians have demonstrated that migration in not a necessary process and that migration can be stopped", Szijjarto told reporters in Budapest.

"I reject that the European Parliament's forces supporting immigration and migrants threaten, blackmail and with untrue accusations defame Hungary and the Hungarian people", he said during a feisty speech.

It is the first time that the Parliament has taken this step against a national government. For seven years, the Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán has attempted to crack down on independent organisations that provide checks and balances on their power.

The report under consideration criticises his government's restrictions on the freedom of the media, academics and NGOs, its ill treatment of minority groups, refugees and asylum seekers, and its meddling with the judicial and electoral systems.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban, once a campaigner against Hungary's Soviet Communist overlords, has used his parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups in ways his opponents say breach European Union rules.

Szijjarto said Hungary was considering legal options to appeal the result because of the way the vote was tallied. This marks the first time the European Parliament has taken that step, though Poland faced similar action from the European Commission previous year.

Orban might have lost some key allies as EPP lawmakers said their caucus meeting showed many would vote in favor of Article 7.

Addressing the parliament ahead of Orban, Greek leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: "Pro-European forces have a duty to stand side by side".

One of the biggest sticking points, however, is the response to the European migrant crisis by the Hungarian government, which has refused to participate in an EU-wide refugee relocation scheme.

"Do you Hungarians know better, they need inquired of the deputies of Orban".

After the vote, Sargentini thanked her colleagues for standing up "for the protection of democracy and the rule of law, above their interest in party politics". He has also expressed his desire to remain within the EPP, which he said was "deeply divided" on the issue of migration. The EPP's leader Manfred Weber, who announced his bid to run as the group's candidate to be the next European Commission president, is in favour of keeping Fidesz within the fold.

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