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European Parliament voted to punish Hungary

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted to punish Hungary for cracking down on democratic institutions, setting off a process that could ultimately lead to the suspension of the country’s voting rights in the bloc.

It is the first time that the parliament has launched the EU’s disciplinary process against a member state, known as Article 7, and it exposes the deep unease in parts of the Europe about the policies pursued by the country’s hardline prime minister Viktor Orban.
The vote comes nine months after the European Commission used its power to launch the same process against Poland. The rarely-invoked process is designed to prevent member states breaching the EU’s “core values”.
Wednesday’s vote in Strasbourg followed a report from Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, which raised concerns about Hungary’s erosion of democracy in recent years, including crackdowns on migrants, the media and academic institutions.
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.”
Since Orban’s populist right-wing Fidesz Party swept into power in 2010, and most recently won a landslide victory again in April this year, it has come under increasing fire from Brussels over its hardline policies.
They include the government’s “Stop Soros” law, named after Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and introduced in June, which banned NGOs assisting migrants.
Until now, Orban has largely been shielded by any EU disciplinary action by his fellow European People’s Party (EPP) members in the European Parliament.
But after a fiery speech by Orban at a debate in Strasbourg on Tuesday where he called the Commission’s report into Hungary’s policies “blackmail,” it appeared that patience was wearing thin among EPP members.
In an unexpected move, another anti-migrant leader, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, said on Tuesday that his party’s five European lawmakers would vote against Hungary.
In a private meeting with EPP members on Tuesday evening, Malta MEP Roberta Metsola told that Orban was defiant.”Prime Minister Orban was uncompromising,” said Metsola. “His reaction was an eye-opener for a number of MEPs who had previously remained silent in his regard. They stood up to say ‘no, we won’t tolerate you any more.'”
The Article 7 process is protracted, and no member state has ever been subjected to its ultimate sanction — the suspension of voting rights. This “nuclear option” would require the approval of all EU member states apart from the accused country, and it seems unlikely that Hungary or ally Poland — under fire for its overhaul of the judicial system — would support such a measure against the other.
In the ideological battles between European leaders, most notably over migration, Hungary has also made common cause with Italy. At a meeting with Orban last month, Italy’s hard line interior minister Matteo Salvini declared that the anti-migrant leaders were “walking the same path,” as opposed to the pro-migrant policies of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Orban’s fiery speech on Tuesday drew a strong riposte from EU officials. Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, hit back at Orban’s accusations, tweeting “To say that criticizing your government is a criticism of a nation or a people is the coward’s way out Mr Orban. Don’t try to deflect attention. If you make these laws then stand for them and we will debate them.”

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