Hungarian PM faces crucial debate at European Parliament

Lamar Ellis
September 14, 2018

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the European Parliament on Tuesday he would not bow to EU "blackmail" as lawmakers prepared to vote on whether to punish Budapest for eroding democracy.

The European Parliament is set to vote on a draft motion urging member states to trigger Article 7 of the EU's treaties against Hungary. This marks the first time the European Parliament has taken that step, though Poland faced similar action from the European Commission previous year.

"The European Parliament vote should serve as a wake-up call to EU institutions and national governments that press freedom is a fundamental democratic value that needs to be vigorously defended and promoted throughout the 28 member states, starting with Hungary". The ultimate sanction, the suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the European Union, is unlikely as Poland is set to veto that move.

"Hungary shall not bow to blackmail", said Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party was re-elected with a landslide majority last April.

Orban has faced worldwide condemnation over Hungary's electoral system, violations of press freedoms, undermining the judiciary, Islamophobia and the mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and limits on the functioning of non-governmental organisations.

"I have nothing to compromise about since the questions they objected to were decided by the Hungarian people", Orban said Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, after the debate in the European Parliament on the report on Hungary. He has also waged a vociferous campaign against Hungarian-born, Jewish American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and the liberal causes he backs in formerly-communist eastern Europe.

Verhofstadt went on to say that Orban was not his country, and that Hungary was "far more eternal" than Orban's far-right government.

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Sargentini praised support for her motion from much of Orban's European People's Party in the chamber - the EPP includes Merkel's Christian Democrats - and she called on governments in the EU's Council to now take the unprecedented step of sanctioning a fellow member. Orban might have lost some key allies as EPP lawmakers said their caucus meeting showed many would vote in favor of Article 7.

Kovacs also suggested that the alliance with Fidesz boosts the EPP's appeal to European voters.

But Weber, a close ally of Merkel, also spoke of "building bridges" with Hungary and noted the EU's failure to take action in a similar rule-of-law case against Poland.

French President Emmanuel Macron, an outspoken defender of European Union values, has urged the EPP to clarify its stance, saying it could not back both Merkel and Orban at the same time.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has told European Parliament that Brussels' actions against Budapest "violates the EU treaty".

The Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, an EPP member, has repeatedly clashed with Orban's government, especially since Budapest refused to admit asylum seekers under an European Union scheme launched at the height of the migration crisis in 2015.

Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber takes part in the vote.

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