Earlier this week under the legislative threshold of a two-thirds majority, the European Parliament voted 448 to 197, in favour of disciplinary proceedings against Hungary for allegedly undermining European Union core values and the rule of law. Based on reports, the European Parliament has raised concerns surrounding 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 including Roma and Jews.
After winning a third consecutive term in office, Prime Minister Viktor Orban imposed a hardline stance against immigration including introducing a law criminalizing lawyers and activists who help asylum seekers, under the pretense of facilitating illegal immigration. Mr. Orban strongly refutes these claims, saying the decision was an”abuse of power,” and included “serious factual misrepresentations.” Dutch Green MEP, Ms. Sargentini who is leading the investigation and wrote the report on Mr. Orban’s government stated that “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.”
Many welcome the decision, including Amnesty International’s expert on human rights in the EU, and President of the European Commission stating that the EU “is using the tools we have, launching infringement procedures against countries that don’t respect EU law,” British conservatives, amongst others, are critiquing the decision to reflect the authoritarian grip of the European Union. While under Article 7 of EU rule in which breach of the union’s principles can lead to suspension of a member state’s rights as a punitive measure, the European Commission is pursuing preventive measures against Hungary designed to avoid sanctions.
Amidst the rise of nationalism seen across Europe in recent years, including Brexit and the ongoing disciplinary process against Poland, the hard-line taken by the European Commission can be argued to serve both a disciplinary function against Hungary, as well as a political function to the rest of the world. Amnesty International’s expert on human rights in the EU said “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.” In the form of sanctions, including reduction of financial aid, the EU parliament has the capacity to coerce European governments to abide by EU law. However, any disciplinary action must be agreed upon by majority EU leaders, and the harshest sanction, the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights, must be voted for unanimously.
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