By Campaign Agent Imogen Granger
The European Parliament has made a drastic move to pursue ‘unprecedented disciplinary action’ against Hungary. On Wednesday 12th, the vote was passed with the backing of over two-thirds of MEPs, the first time the Parliament has been able to trigger Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The vote was instigated by Dutch Greens MEP, Judith Sargentini, who comprised a report on Hungary concluding that the country presents a threat to the ‘core values’ of the Parliament. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban was re – elected earlier this year after campaigning for anti-immigration policies and a Eurosceptic government. His government has come under fire from the international community, especially in Europe, since making a number of controversial right-wing statements. In July 2016 the Prime Minister stated ‘for us migration is not a solution but a problem… not medicine but a poison, we don’t need it and won't swallow it’. Migration has become a key issue for Eastern European countries, particularly Hungary, as refugees and migrants cross the borders to reach wealthy European cities. Orban has tried to stop this flow of migrants by erecting fences and barbed wire along the southern borders, together with strict migrant laws. This included a law which made it a criminal offence for lawyers to defend asylum seekers, due to this being seen as facilitating illegal immigration. He also praised the migration policies of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, saying that they were ‘vital’ for Hungary.
Orban has reacted fiercely to the vote and heatedly defended his policies. The PM had the opportunity to address the Parliament in defence of his government, stating that the report by Sargentini was an ‘abuse of power’ and ‘an insult to Hungary’. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage also came to Orbans defence, stating that both Hungary and the Prime Minister had been insulted. He added ‘Come join the Brexit club, you’ll love it’.
Article 7 was created to dissuade members of the EU from instilling policies and values which Europe considers anti-democratic. The Treaty was ratified by all 27 members and was enacted in 2009. Once passed, the European Council is then expected to act unanimously to ‘determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach’ and carry out sanctions.
With over two-thirds of MEPs backing sanctions, breaching the EUs founding principles could cause Hungary’s rights to be suspended. The Parliament has also said there is cause for concern about the countries electoral system, privacy and data collection, freedom of expression and religion, academic freedom, and equal rights particularly for migrants and minorities.
However, Hungary is under ‘preventative measures’ which are designed to avoid sanctions entirely. It is also considered that suspending Hungary’s voting right, the ultimate sanction, is unlikely. Invoking Article 7 is a long process with multiple parts which can take a long period of time to produce action against a state. Now that the Parliament has voted, the process against Hungary has been started and the decision goes to the EU Council – the heads of government and member states – which must agree by a four fifths majority that there is a risk of breaching EU values. Nonetheless, in theory, the Council do not have to listen to the Parliaments vote as there is no timeframe for this process and could ignore calls for sanctions entirely.
Sources and Further Reading
‘EU parliament votes to punish Hungary over 'breaches' of core values’, BBC (12 Sep 2018)
‘Hungarian prime minister says migrants are 'poison' and 'not needed’, The Guardian (27 July 2016)
‘Hungary PM Viktor Orban defiant as EU debates action’, BBC (11 Sep 2018)
‘EU parliament to vote on rebuking Hungary's Viktor Orban’, Al Jazeera (11 Sep 2018)
‘What sanctions can the EU impose on Hungary?’, BBC (12 Sep 2018)
Image: European Parliament @flickr