EU parliament votes to punish Hungary over ‘breaches’ of core values

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

EU parliament votes to punish Hungary over ‘breaches’ of core values

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses the European Parliament. 11 Sept 2018Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Viktor Orban launched an impassioned defense on Tuesday – but it was not enough

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.

More than two-thirds of MEPs backed the censure motion – the first such vote against a member state under EU rules.

If also approved by national leaders, Hungary could face punitive measures.

The ultimate sanction, the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights, is unlikely as Poland is likely to veto any such move.

The BBC’s Nick Thorpe in Budapest says Mr Orban appears increasingly isolated among European conservatives but is being applauded by nationalist parties.

What is Hungary accused of?

Since coming to power, Mr 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”.

But there have also been reports of pressure being put on the courts and the electoral system, and of widespread corruption.

After the vote, the European Parliament said it was also concerned about:

  • The constitutional and electoral system
  • Privacy and data protection
  • Freedom of expression and religion
  • Academic freedom and freedom of association
  • Equal rights, particularly for refugees and minorities such as Roma and Jews

Mr 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.

Rapporteur Judith Sargentini is congratulated after members of the European Parliament took part in a vote on the situation in HungaryImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionJudith Sargentini, author of the report on Hungary, was applauded by many MEPs after the vote

He claimed a report by Dutch Greens MEP Judith Sargentini was an “abuse of power”, and included “serious factual misrepresentations”.

Ms Sargentini’s report into Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party alleged such actions were “a clear breach of the values of our union”.

Grey lines

Centre-right split over Hungary action

Analysis by BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming

The opposition to Viktor Orban received a boost last night when Manfred Weber, leader of the European Parliament’s centre-right group the European People’s Party (EPP), lost patience with his erstwhile ally and announced he would vote to trigger Article 7.

But it has created a split within the EPP because Forza Italia, some Bulgarians, a few Germans and assorted others gave their backing to Budapest.

Most British Conservative MEPs supported the Hungarian government, arguing that the EU had intruded into purely national matters. They strongly deny it was to secure Hungary’s support in the Brexit process or out of admiration for the country’s leader.

However, this episode might not bother Mr Orban at all, as it boosts his image back home as a scourge of the European establishment.

Grey lines

What could happen now?

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.

However, Hungary is currently facing “preventative” measures, which the parliament says are designed to avoid sanctions entirely.

The BBC Reality Check team has explained the Article 7 process in detail. Broadly, the decision on Hungary will now be referred to the heads of the 28 EU member states to consider.

However, because this step has never been taken before, it is not clear what will happen next, or when.

Suspension of Hungary’s voting rights is the most serious possible consequence – but is considered unlikely.

Poland is also facing disciplinary proceedings, launched by the European Commission in December last year. The case has yet to reach the European Parliament.

What has the reaction been?

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reacted angrily to the vote, calling it the “petty revenge” of “pro-immigration” politicians.

Some politicians from other countries also defended Mr Orban’s government. Britain’s Nigel Farage, a pro-Brexit MEP, wrote that the decision demonstrated “the authoritarian grip of the EU”.

Anti-Islam Dutch populist Geert Wilders tweeted: “Hungary is the example for all EU countries and Orban is a hero and deserves the Nobel Prize.”

But Ms Sargentini, who wrote the report on Mr Orban’s government, said the decision sent an important message that the EU would stand up for citizens’ rights.

“Viktor Orban’s government has been leading the charge against European values by silencing independent media, replacing critical judges, and putting academia on a leash,” she said.

“Individuals close to the government have been enriching themselves, their friends and family members at the expense of Hungarian and European taxpayers. The Hungarian people deserve better.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto holds a news conference in Budapest, September 12, 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionHungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reacted angrily to the vote

Amnesty International’s expert on human rights in the EU, Berber Biala-Hettinga, hailed the vote as “historic”.

“The European Parliament rightly stood up for the Hungarian people and for the EU. They made it clear that human rights, the rule of law and democratic values are not up for negotiation,” she said.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said that he would have voted for the measure if he was an MEP.

“The European Commission is using the tools we have, launching infringement procedures against countries that don’t respect EU law. [I] am in harmony with today’s decision,” he said through a spokeswoman’s Twitter account.

More on this story

  • Hungary pursued by EU over ‘Stop Soros’ migrant law
    19 July 2018
  • Nationalism in heart of Europe needles EU
    23 February 2018
  • Europe migrant crisis: EU court rejects quota challenge
    6 September 2017

Europe

Hungary’s Viktor Orban is widely expected to win Sunday’s election

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Hungary’s Viktor Orban is widely expected to win Sunday’s election. Why is he so popular?

 3:10
Is Hungary’s election the country’s last chance to avoid autocracy?

Hungary is in the midst of a divisive election that will decide if the country’s anti-immigrant prime minister gets a third straight term in office. 

 April 7 at 3:30 PM 
The rally was a curious blend of kitsch and gravitas: plastic flags, unwieldy crucifixes and pop lyrics extolling the virtues of blood and soil. But this is Europe in 2018.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, mounted the podium to the sound of screams and raucous applause. In the same city where Hungary once crowned some of its kings, he delivered his final pitch to voters before Sunday’s election: a familiar litany against migrants, the European Union and George Soros, his favorite billionaire punching bag.

For months now, so much of Orban’s rhetoric has focused on how faraway bureaucrats and boogeymen have subverted Hungary’s national interests to line the coffers of what he couches as an international financial conspiracy, a rhetorical line some see as little more than a modern remake of an anti-Semitic trope. Yet it would be a mistake to cast his victory on Sunday — almost a foregone conclusion — merely as an internal assault on the European consensus, even if that is the result.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech in Szekesfehervar, on Friday, his last before Sunday’s election. (Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images)

In the minds of many of Orban’s supporters, Sunday’s election is less a rally against the E.U. as it is a battle of European visions. And to them, the best way to ensure the future of Europe is to support the man who has transformed their country into the single E.U. member state that perhaps least resembles a 21st-century Western democracy.

Despite Orban’s bluster, Hungary is not a particularly Euroskeptic nation. In advance of the Brexit vote in June 2016, polls showed that Hungarian voters, second only to Poles, were the most supportive of Brussels in the entire 28-state bloc. More recent analyses suggest that that support has waned, but they also show that Hungary’s trust in the E.U. as an institution is average, and more than half of the population favors introducing the euro.

“Yes, Hungary is part of Europe,” said Nandor Holl, a 20-year-old business school student who said he hopes to enter politics some day. He was at Friday’s rally here with his friends, proudly sporting a banner for Fidesz, Orban’s right-wing party.

“My country is very important to me, and I choose it first, but I feel it’s important to keep Europe as an entity,” he said. “Honestly, I think the Hungarian government wants the same — but just to save it from migrants.”

Orban’s opponents — including former members of the party he now leads — see his tenure as a troubling turn toward an “Eastern-style” autocracy incompatible with contemporary European values of transparency, tolerance and democracy.

To them, Orban — who in the last eight years in power has overhauled the constitution and cracked down on Hungarian media, among other things — is more in line with Russia’s Vladimir Putin than he is with the continental cohorts of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. And Sunday’s election represents an existential choice.

“The question is which direction we will go in the next four years,” said Peter Akos Bod, who served as trade minister in Hungary’s transition government in 1990 after the fall of communism, and later as the president of Hungary’s central bank.

“The election will determine whether Hungary consolidates itself as a democracy or whether it aligns with Putin and the ascendant authoritarians of the 21st century,” said Michael Ignatieff, the president and rector of Budapest’s Central European University, an institution backed by George Soros that Orban has repeatedly threatened.

But Europe means something different to Orban’s supporters. To them, he incarnates a nostalgic vision of a Hungary, and a Europe, that is culturally homogenous.

“It’s difficult to say, as I cannot speak for everyone,” said Gabor Bodi, 49, a physical therapist who was at the rally, when pressed to define the appeal of Orban’s vision. He was holding a crucifix several meters tall that towered above the crowd. “But as you can see, I am carrying a cross.”

Nostalgia is an Orban specialty, and appeals to a vanished white, Christian past have long been a mainstay of his rhetoric, including at the rally:

“We freed ourselves from bonded slavery.”

“We stopped the first big wave of migration.”

“We proved that the Christian culture and way of life is not part of the past. On the contrary, we can bring it and we must bring it with us into the future.”

But sociologists say the emphasis is deeper than that.

Orban’s line plays on a collective memory of foreign invasion by Turks, Austrians and Russians, said Imre Kovach, an expert on domestic social dynamics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

Much the same is true in Poland, another E.U. member state run by right-wing populists that has sought, through the passage of a widely condemned “Holocaust law,” to end what leaders see as the deliberate attempt to shame the nation on the part of western critics.

“Hungarian identity is a very European identity, but I do think that it’s really different from, say, a French or German,” Kovach said. “They just don’t have the same image of what ‘Europe’ means.”

The difference, he said, is the experience of postwar history. Hungary, like Poland, experienced nearly 50 years of communist rule after the end of the World War II. For many, the end of communism was seen as a moment when the country would be granted a long-denied sense of autonomy — an autonomy that’s not always recognized in the European Union.

“From a historical point of view, when Hungarians had to make a decision about siding with the West or the East, they always chose the West,” Kovach said. “But the 20th century’s events were not for the Hungarians — we lost so much, so many territories, so many people’s lives.”

Orban rarely shies away from this history. When he does wade into it, the subtext is often the sacrifice Hungary made in defending a continent that has never properly expressed its gratitude.

“We also know our own history,” he said in an October speech, at a Danube regional strategy summit. “Those who wanted to gain a foothold in Europe always came across this route. And Hungary was the last defensive line, if you like, a gate to and for the West.”

Many of his supporters say they have received the message loud and clear.

Rudniczai Janosne, 60, is a retired office worker who braved the crowds to come to the Szekesfehervar rally. She struggled to find the words when asked why she found Orban’s message so captivating.

“When I hear his voice, when I see the Hungarian flag, or when I hear the anthem,” she said, “the top of my head gets faint. Tears come to my eyes.”

Gergo Saling contributed to this report.

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