The European Parliament has voted to pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary over alleged breaches of the EU’s core values.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has been accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law – charges which he denies.
MEPs backed the vote by 448 to 197, giving it the two-thirds required for proceedings to go ahead. If also approved by national leaders, Hungary could face disciplinary action.
Wednesday’s vote is the first time the European Parliament has voted to take such action against a member state under EU rules.
Measures could include suspension of the country’s voting rights in Europe or other sanctions – though the parliament said it hoped to avoid such steps.
Since coming to power, Orban’s government has taken a hardline stance against immigration. It introduced a law which made it a criminal offence for lawyers and activists to help asylum seekers, under the banner of “facilitating illegal immigration”.
The vote was based on a report that voiced concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, religious freedom, and the rights of minorities and refugees under eight years of Orban rule.
Orban addressed the parliament on Tuesday in defence of his government, labelling the threat of censure as a form of “blackmail” and an insult to Hungary.
“Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration and defend its rights,” said Orban, who embraces a vision of a Christian Europe and opposes an influx of Muslims and others.
He claimed a report by Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini was an “abuse of power”, and included “serious factual misrepresentations”.
Sargentini’s had urged colleagues not to let Hungary off the hook, declaring that Orban’s rule “violates the values on which this union was built.”
Under an EU rule called Article 7, breaching the union’s founding principles can lead to the suspension of a member state’s rights as a punitive measure. Broadly, the decision on Hungary will now be referred to the heads of the 28 EU member states to consider.
Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto reacted angrily to the vote, calling it the “petty revenge” of “pro-immigration” politicians. -BBC