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4th Feb 2023

MEPs urge EU states, commission to act now on Hungary

  • MEPs called for “robust EU action” against the Orbán government in Budapest (Photo: John6536)
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MEPs on Wednesday (6 April) called on the EU Commission and the governments to do more to sanction Hungary for democratic backsliding amid concerns over prime minister Viktor Orbán's pro-Russian stance.

European lawmakers discussed Hungary and Poland — both under an EU sanctions probe, the so-called Article 7 procedure.

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The MEPs called on member states to move forward with the procedure, which could result in suspending voting rights of the two member countries. The procedure has been stuck for years in the council of member states.

MEPs were calling for more action on Hungary, where Orbán — the closest EU ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin — had won a fourth consecutive two-thirds parliamentary majority last Sunday.

"At the moment when Ukrainians are fighting and dying for democracy, freedom and rule of law, it would be cynical to turn a blind eye to the attack on the very same values at home," Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) said, referring to concerns over democratic backsliding in Hungary.

"Putin's Russia should be a stark warning to all of us, about the dangers of a system, where checks and balances, democracy and rule of law have ceased to exist," he argued.

The debate came a day after EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that the executive will launch the probe against Hungary that could result in suspending EU funds for the country because of concerns of fraud and corruption. It is a separate procedure to the Article 7 investigation.

Slovak liberal MEP Michal Šimečka said the commission took 459 days to trigger the so-called conditionality mechanism, arguing that the delay was never about procedural issues.

"It is about the massive, toxic influence of one non-democratic leader on the entire EU political system poisoning everything from values to energy policy to foreign policy choices," he said.

"Orban's Hungary is not a local problem," Šimečka said, and called for "robust EU action", blocking funds, moving forward with the Article 7 procedure and suspending voting rights in the council of member states.

'Dithering must end now'

"Dithering over EU values is what has brought us here, and it must end now," he said.

French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield criticised member states for dragging their feet on the Article 7 procedure.

She said the EU countries need to move onto the next stage in the procedure, and need to move towards unprecedented sanctions.

"Inaction to the EU has given legitimacy to this autocracy, and provided it with funds," she said.

Member states will be holding a hearing on Hungary on 30 May.

Hungarian MEP Balázs Hidvéghi from Orbán's Fidesz party called on MEPs to stop what he described as their "ideological jihad" against the Orbán government and respect the vote on Hungarians.

The commission will be sending a letter to notify the Orbán government of the conditionality procedure, but the college of commissioners still needs to greenlight the decision to send that letter.

Asked why the commission decided to launch the mechanism two days after Orbán had won the general election even though the corruption concerns had been persistent before the Sunday vote, the commission pointed to procedural reasons.

"We have always said we would move forward with the process, when we had finished our internal work," commission spokesperson Eric Mamer said.

Orbán said on Wednesday he had not yet received the letter from the commission, and claimed the commission cannot suspend funds.

"The famous procedure is about the recovery fund, if anybody spends money from that illegally it can be taken back. We never got any money from it, there was no way we could misuse the funds from the recovery fund," he said.

Orban: No weapons for Ukraine

However, contrary to Orbán's statement, the rules on the conditionality mechanism cover the EU budget itself as well.

The commission has not approved the recovery fund for Hungary and Poland over concerns of judicial independence and democratic backsliding. But that is a different, parallel procedure.

"Whatever is written in that letter, Hungary is not going to be delivering weapons to the Ukraine," Orbán said, adding that Hungary "will not succumb to any pressure" neither to expand sanctions on energy, nor on conceding on the gender issues.

Orbán's government has been claiming that the commission does not approve the recovery fund because Budapest had approved several laws that discriminate against LGBTI people.

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