Even members of the European People’s Party to which Viktor Orbán‘s Fidesz belongs voted in favour of applying Article 7 of the EU Treaty to Hungary. They see “a clear risk of serious violation” of the values of the European Union in the Magyar Government, as does the majority of the European Parliament (EP). It was a historical vote, but its consequences remain doubtful .
The proposal was approved with 448 votes to 197 (with 48 abstentions). To succeed, it required an absolute majority of the European Parliament (376) and two thirds of the votes cast, excluding the abstentions. It is the first time such a situation has occurred. Even the chairman of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, voted to trigger article 7, although he gave permission to each EMP to vote freely.
Today I will vote in favour of triggering #Article7. I have always been in favour of building bridges and I want to continue to do so but yesterday I didn’t see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his EU partners and address our concerns. #Hungary
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) 12 de septiembre de 2018
This decision means the EP urges the Council of the EU – formed by the ministers of European governments – to act against Hungary in the face of what it considers “a systemic threat to its founding values”. These values, reflected in Article 2 of the EU Treaty, include respect for democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights.
“The vote is a clear defeat for the Hungarian government and its illusion of ‘remodelling’ the European People’s Party”
— Edit Inotai, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy
“The vote is a clear defeat for the Hungarian government and its illusion of ‘remodelling’ the European People’s Party,” Edit Inotai, analyst of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (CEID), considers. “His argument saying that the European Parliament wants to punish Hungary for having an antimigration Government doesn’t work in Europe. The ‘Sargentini report’ [which was voted] critizices the Government in twelve points and only one of them is related to migration.”
Parliament’s key concerns generate a long list and relate to:
- the functioning of the constitutional and electoral system,
- the independence of the judiciary,
- freedom of expression,
- academic freedom,
- freedom of religion,
- freedom of association,
- the right to equal treatment,
- the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma and Jews,
- the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and
- economic and social rights
- corruption and conflicts of interest,
- privacy and data protection.
Among other issues, Viktor Orbán has always cast the suspicion of terrorism on asylum seekers arriving in Hungary and the rest of Europe in recent years. His administration built up fences to avoid a large arrival of these persons.
And in August of this year the NGO Human Rights Watch reported that the Hungarian authorities did not provide the necessary food to the asylum seekers whose petition they had rejected at the border. This happened, while these people were being held in Magyar detention centers.
He does neither make a difference between refugees and economic migrants, to whom international law confers very different rights and forces the reception of those fleeing from a situation that puts their lives at risk. International law also establishes a whole process with guarantees before deciding whether a person should be a refugee or not and thus avoid the so-called “pull backs” at the borders.
“The government firmly rejects the principle that the current migration should be seen as a human right,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said a month before the elections in Hungary last spring. Fidesz, Viktor Orbán’s party, won with 49% of the votes.
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“It’s a nasty surprise for Orbán that his supporters in the EPP, especially Weber and the Germans, voted against him”, Inotai notes. She forsees Fidesz’s exit from the European People’s Party in the near future to come together with the extreme right parties. But she warns that would not be such a good measure for the EPP, which would loose twelve of its representatives in the European Parliament.
The European Parliament voted its agreement with the report of the Dutch MEP for The Greens Judith Sargentini, who has been working on it for months.
“The European Parliament sends out an important message: We stand up for the rights of all Europeans, including Hungarian citizens and we defend our European values,” Sargentini said. “Now it is up to the European leaders to take their responsibility and stop watching from the sidelines as the rule of law is destroyed in Hungary. This is unacceptable for a Union that is built on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.”
“Orbán and his spokesmen will behave as if nothing had happened. Hate speech and propaganda won’t change, but I’m sure they are a little scared”
— László Cselényi, former head of the Hungarian international public TV
Everyone agrees that this Wednesday’s vote is a warning to other European governments going in the same direction as Orbán is. But its practical consequences remain to be seen. For László Cselényi, former head of the Hungarian international television Duna TV, “Orbán and his spokesmen will obviously behave as if nothing had happened. Persons who may critize them will be called communists and servers of [George] Soros, [Hungarian tycoon contrary to Orbán with whom he has an open confrontation]. ”
Csenényi believes that “hate speech and propaganda won’t change” in a country where there is practically no traditional mass media which remain independent. He believes that the Magyar president will “back down” on some specific decisions to calm the mood in the EU, such as the closure of the CEU university. But little more.
“Sargentini’s criticism has come at an appropriate time and is justified, but it won’t have any positive consequences on Hungary’s domestic policy in the near future,” he says. At the same time, the former head of public television concedes: “I’m sure that [Orbán and his team] are a little scared.”
Will there be sanctions now?
If the application of article 7 were carried out, sanctions would be imposed on the Orbán government, which could lose its right to vote in the decisions of the European Council (the heads of state or government of the 28). French presidente, Emmanuel Macron, welcomed yesterday’s vote. But European legislation provides for a dialogue with the Member State concerned – in this case, Hungary – to avoid reaching this situation.
— Judith Sargentini (@judithineuropa) 13 de septiembre de 2018
The proposal for a Council decision is now forwarded to the Member States, which must vote. They will need a majority of four fifths to support the ‘Sargentini report’. The Hungarian Government has the right to restate its arguments before the Council, as it has done this Wednesday before the European Parliament.
The Council may then make recommendations to Hungary “to counther the risk” of violation of the founding values instead of directly putting sanctions in place, explains the press release. In a later stage, the European Council can rule on the “existence in Hungary of a serious and persistent breach of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights”. But it must be agreed unanimously and passing through the European Parliament again. Only then could the sanctions take place.
* Article updated in a second version to include Edit Inotai’s analysis.
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