Thursday

20th Sep 2018

EPP leader will vote to launch Hungary procedure

  • Weber suggested that a lot of EPP deputies had had enough of covering for Orban (Photo: European Parliament)

Manfred Weber, the head of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), has said he will back a report calling for an EU check on the health of Hungary's democracy.

The conservative German MEP, who announced last week that he sought to lead the next European Commission, told press on Tuesday (11 September) evening in Strasbourg that Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban had not shown any "readiness to contribute to solutions" on key issues of concern.

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  • Orban refused to back down both in plenary and in EPP talks (Photo: Consilium)

"I will vote tomorrow in favour of Article 7. We've had enough dialogue," Weber said.

The group did not agree in a common line, he added, so that EPP deputies will be able to vote freely on the measures.

The European Parliament (EP) is set to vote on Wednesday whether to call on EU countries to examine Hungary's democracy in a procedure called Article 7.

It marks an unprecedented move by the EP and needs a two-thirds majority, with at least 376 deputies casting their votes.

Getting the two-thirds figure largely depends on how Orban's allies in the EPP, the largest group in parliament, vote.

"A lot of colleagues are ready to go to the next step," Weber said.

He did not speculate on the outcome, but he said the EPP shared the concerns outlined in the report calling to trigger Article 7 of the EU treaty that was put together by Green MEP Judith Sargentini.

The group focused their internal debate on Tuesday on whether Orban's behaviour constituted "systematic violations of the rule of law principle", Weber said.

His announcement marked a major shift in the EPP's approach to Orban. The centre-right party has been sheltering Orban's Fidesz party for years, even though many of its MEPs privately shared Sargentini's concerns.

Weber hails from the Bavarian Christian Social (CSU) party, an ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

The CSU has increasingly adopted Orban's tough rhetoric on migrants, challenging Merkel's leadership on the issue.

Hungarian people

Earlier on Tuesday, MEPs debated the issue in plenary together with Orban, who said the EP would be guilty of condemning the Hungarian people if they triggered Article 7.

Following the debate, the EPP group held a closed-door meeting where MEPs had another exchange with the Hungarian leader.

EPP MEPs were looking for Orban to scale back some of the measures that threatened academic freedom and civil society in his country, but the Hungarian PM did not back down.

Orban instead told a press conference that he wanted to reform the EPP and for it to take a tougher anti-migration line ahead of European elections next May, in which he said the issue would play a central role.

Mainstream parties from all over Europe have struggled to tackle migration, giving a boost to populist and nativist parties.

Orban recently met with Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, fuelling speculation that the Hungarian wanted to pull EPP towards the right.

At the same time, French president Emmanuel Macron has said he would welcome liberal-minded EPP members to join a new pro-European "platform".

Sources said after the EPP meeting that deputies raised the issue of Orban supporting parties across the EU which were challenging the national EPP parties.

Open and frank

"We had an open and frank discussion," Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt told EUobserver after the EPP group meeting.

"It was disturbing to see today in plenary that he mainly got support from the far right and we confronted him on that, especially on aligning himself with Salvini," she added.

"We told him [Orban] that he has to give us a sign that he is coming back to our family, on academic freedom or on other key issues of concern," she added.

Corazza Bildt said Orban insisted he was part of the EPP and blamed the left for developments, saying Sargentini's report was not about rule of law but about the left trying to attack the centre-right's position.

"Orban is in a state of denial," the Swedish MEP said.

"Orban cannot hide behind his electoral victory, a majority does not make him stand above the law," she said.

Orban, whose party secured a two-thirds majority in parliament in national elections in April, claimed earlier on Tuesday that any change in his policies would go against the wishes of the electorate.

"We told him [Orban] that we are uncomfortable with him saying that any concern raised is an attack on the Hungarian people. Only regimes say they are one with the people," Corazza Bildt 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.

EP triggers sanctions procedure, Hungary calls 'fraud'

The parliament launched a sanctions procedure against Hungary in an unprecedented vote that required a two-thirds majority from MEPs. Hungary is calling the vote a "fraud" and a "petty revenge" for its hardline migration policy.

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