MEPs vote in favour of tough action against Hungary

Viktor Orban speaks during the final electoral rally of his Fidesz party in Szekesfehervar Hungary. The European Parliament is set to debate a move toward imposing political

New Democracy to vote against Hungary in European Parliament | Kathimerini

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto holds a news conference on today's European Parliament vote to start an EU punitive procedure against Hungary for persistently flouting democratic rules, in Budapest, Hungary September 12, 2018.

Article 7, often dubbed the "nuclear option", is the EU's punishment clause, allowing it to discipline member states when there is a "clear risk of a serious breach" of the bloc's core principles. "Hungary firmly belongs in the European Union, but xenophobia and disrespect for fundamental freedoms and rights most certainly do not", she continued.

Members of the European Union parliament have voted to begin a punitive procedure against Hungary for persistently flouting democratic rules.

With Britain scheduled to leave the bloc altogether in March and Europeans voting in European Parliament elections in May, the rows over Hungary and Poland highlight tensions between nationalist and federalist camps.

With the vote, the EP endorsed the report of Green MEP Judith Sargentini, which said recent developments in Hungary represent a systematic threat to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the country and constitute a clear risk of a serious breach of European Union values.

"Hungary is going to be condemned because the Hungarian people have decided that this country is not going to be a country of migrants", Orban said.

He also claimed that the vote involved "massive fraud" since abstentions were not counted into the final tally, which made it easier to reach the needed majority.

The report was approved with 448 votes in favour, 197 against and 48 abstentions. If the abstentions were counted into the final tally, there would have been a total 693 votes, so the 448 in favour wouldn't have reached two-thirds.

But Judith Sargentini, who presented the report prepared by the European Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, welcomed the outcome.

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Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law - charges which he denies.

"The decision was made in a fraudulent way, and contrary to relevant rules in European treaties", he said.

Sargentini praised support for her motion from much of Orban's European People's Party in the chamber - the EPP includes Merkel's Christian Democrats - and she called on governments in the EU's Council to now take the unprecedented step of sanctioning a fellow member.

Even EPP leader Manfred Weber, who earlier was supportive of Orban and is seeking to become the European Commission president next year, said he had voted for triggering Article 7.

Mr Orban has for years faced worldwide condemnation over Hungary's electoral system, media freedoms, independence of the judiciary, mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and limits on the functioning of non-governmental organisations.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban has pressured Hungary's courts, media and non-governmental groups, as well as refusing to take in asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

Opposition to Orban's vision does not just come from the left, with disquiet also in the main centre-right parliamentary group, the European People's Party (EPP).

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacts during a speech at the plenary session at the European Parliament. "There is nothing to talk about".

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