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20th Sep 2020

Orban should be punished, Austrian leader says

  • Sebastian Kurz (r) with Viktor Orban: common ground on migration, but not rule of law (Photo: Bundeskanzleramt)

Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz has said his party's MEPs will vote in favour of a sanctions procedure against Hungary in the European Parliament on Wednesday (12 September).

"There are no compromises on the rule of law. The core values ​​need to be protected," he said in a TV interview with the ORF broadcaster on Monday.

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"We decided that Austrian MEPs will vote in favour of an Article 7 procedure," he said.

He added that if a majority of deputies from the centre-right EPP group in the EU assembly voted in favour of the sanctions, then he would also back the expulsion of Orban's Fidesz party from the group.

"That would be a very normal thing," Kurz said.

Kurz's OVP party has just five MEPs, but the chancellor's remarks carry extra weight in view of Austria's current role as the EU presidency.

They also come as a surprise after Kurz and Orban vowed to fight together against EU migrant-sharing quotas earlier this year.

The EPP group is divided on whether to shelter Orban in order to try to moderate his politics or to put him out into the cold - where he might further align with far-right forces.

However, Austria's government is itself divided on Hungary, with the far-right FPO party in the ruling coalition reaching out to the Hungarian leader also on Monday.

"I would like to invite Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party to a future cooperation in a common EU group," Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPO chief and Austrian vice-chancellor, said on Facebook.

The idea of imposing EU sanctions on Hungary was "absurd" Strache added.

MEPs will vote this week on a report by Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, which says the EU should launch the same sanctions process as it did last year against Poland.

The report lists over a dozen concerns, ranging from Hungary's curbs on freedom of expression to minority rights, which, it says "represent a systemic threat to the values" of the EU and "constitute a clear risk of a serious breach" of rule of law.

The move requires two-thirds of MEPs present in the chamber on the day to vote yes.

It would then be up to member states to take the matter further.

The process could end with Hungary losing its right to vote in the EU Council, but Poland is likely to veto such a move in return for Hungary's veto on its own sanctions case.

Orban has recently courted Italian nationalist-populists amid talk of the creation a new far-right axis to contest the EU parliament elections next year.

Like-minded parties from France and the Netherlands have also promised to join in.

The EU election campaign is likely to be dominated by migration, but Austria's Kurz said that the worst of the crisis appeared to be over.

"The Mediterranean route is closing," he said in the TV interview, referring to migrants who sailed from north Africa to Italy, Malta, or Spain to claim EU asylum.

He said Austria wanted to work with Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia to help keep people from coming to Europe, but he distanced himself from recent FPO comments that the Austrian military should be sent to Libya to tackle the problem.

"It's no state secret if I tell you now that we will not invade Africa," Kurz said.

Hungary vote exposes EU rift on populism

MEPs will vote next week on whether to urge member states to investigate Hungary on EU values. Budapest calls it "liberal fundamentalism", with the EPP in a difficult position.

Orban's allies want concessions ahead of critical vote

MEPs in Strasbourg debated triggering the Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary, for infringing EU rules and values - while prime minister Viktor Orban claimed the parliament was about to punish Hungarians for protecting Europe's borders from immigrants.

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