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20th Feb 2020

Draft EU report calls for sanctions on Hungary

  • Rapportuer Judith Sargentini is presepnting her report on Hungary (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU should launch a sanctions procedure against Hungary because of a "clear risk of a serious breach" of the bloc's basic values, a draft report by a European Parliament (EP) committee published on Thursday (12 April) said.

The report detailed the curtailed rights of the constitutional court, stricter control over the courts, the curbing of freedom of expression, a biased media council, the financing of newspapers through state advertisement, the threat to academic freedom, and the rights of migrants as some of the issues where the report concluded a serious deterioration in fundamental rights and the rule of law.

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The civil rights committee was tasked by the EP plenary last May to examine the situation in Hungary, and whether the Article 7 sanctions procedure, which in the end could result in the suspension of Hungary's voting rights, should be launched.

Dutch green MEP Judith Sargentini, twho drafted the report said these added up to a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values by the government of prime minister Viktor Orban, who won a third term in office by a landslide on Sunday.

"It is shocking how many warnings have been given since 2010. The time for issuing warnings has passed," Sargentini said.

"This is ... about the way Hungary is treating its citizens," she insisted.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophia in 't Veld argued in the committee that launching the Article 7 procedure against Hungary "is long overdue" as Orban has been steadily undermining checks and balances and silencing critical voices.

"If Hungary were to apply today [for EU membership], we wouldn't accept Hungary as a member," she said.

Kinga Gal, from Orban's Fidesz party, claimed that the committee's report called into question Sunday's election results.

"My problem with this committee, this debate and the rapporteur is that they don't want to accept the unquestionable decision of the Hungarian citizens who overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Hungarians government's path," she told reporters after the debate in the committee.

"We are being punished because we have stood up against mandatory relocation of migrants into Hungary," she said.

Gal said that even though no journalist has been killed and no demonstration smashed in Hungary, it is always the Orban government that is being put on the spot in Europe.

Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijjarto labelled the committee's draft report a "Soros-report", in reference to US Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, whom the Hungarian government has labelled as the biggest threat to the country.

"Four days passed since the elections, but it was enough for Brussels to attack Hungary again," Szijjarto said on Thursday at a press conference in Hungary.

Sargentini told reporters after the debate that she could not have known the result of the Hungarian election in advance while she was preparing the report.

The committee will vote on the draft report in June, and a vote by the parliament's plenary is expected in September.

It is unlikely that calling for Article 7 would be supported by the majority of MEPs, as the largest parliamentary group, the European People's Party, in which the ruling Fidesz party is a member, has until now backed Orban.

Even if the report would end up triggering an Article 7 procedure, it would be up to fellow EU members to state that there was a clear risk of breach of EU values, which is unlikely to happen as EU countries are reluctant to interfere in what they perceive as domestic politics.

Asked what she would tell to those reluctant EU countries, Sargentini said all EU members should only work together with countries that demonstrate solidarity.

"This is not about sovereignty of a state, to be able to take away rights of citizens, that is not your right if you want to be a member of the EU," she said.

The European Commission last year triggered the Article 7 procedure against Poland, where the government has copied many of Orban's policies.

The EU executive however said that there is no systematic threat to the rule of law in Hungary.

Listing 'enemies'

On Thursday a Hungarian pro-government magazine, Figyelo, published more than 200 names of people it claims are part of a group that Orban calls "mercenaries" paid by Soros to topple the government.

The names include staff members of rights organisations such as Amnesty International, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, refugee advocates, investigative journalists and staff from the Soros-founded Central European University in Budapest.

Orban has threatened with "moral, political and legal amends" against rivals after the election. He also claimed there are 2,000 members of the "Soros mercenary army" paid to bring down his government and turn Hungary into an immigrant country.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress

Italians, Czechs and Latvians perceive less corruption than a few years ago in Transparency International's annual ranking. The Berlin-based NGO said Finland was a 'worrying case', whilst Bulgaria - which holds the EU presidency - is EU's most corrupt.

New Polish PM visits Hungary in snub to Brussels

In his first official bilateral visit since taking office, Poland's new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki travels to Budapest, which vowed to defend Warsaw from any EU sanctions over its judicial reforms.

EU leaders face major clash on rule of law budget link

One major issue dividing member states in the ongoing budget negotiations is inserting a direct link between EU subsidies and the rule of law. While the biggest battle will be over figures, the rule of law conditionality also creates tension.

Analysis

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Belgian coalition talks have hit a wall nine months after elections, posing the possibility of a new vote, which risks making the country even harder to govern.

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