European Parliament votes to trigger Article 7 against Hungary

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a debate concerning Hungary's situation as part of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg eastern France

Hungary's government will decide on Monday on legal steps to challenge a European Parliament ruling against the country for flouting democratic standards, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said.

European lawmakers voted Wednesday to initiate sanctions proceedings against the Hungarian government for what they said was backsliding on democracy, an extraordinary censure for a nation that was once a beacon of post-Communist transformation.

It is the first time that the parliament has launched the European Union disciplinary process against a member state, known as Article 7.

Theoretically, the EP vote could end with Hungary losing its European Union voting rights - but both Poland and the Czech Republic vowed on Thursday to veto such a move, saying it would increase voters' dissatisfaction with Europe.

The European Parliament has voted to pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary over alleged breaches of the EU's core values.

"As of now there is no timeline" for the European Council to act, she said.

The proposal concerning Hungary, which MEPs vote on 12 September, would be the first time that Parliament takes the initiative of recommending that the mechanism should be triggered.

The Commission, headed by EPP member Jean-Claude Juncker, has repeatedly clashed with Orban's government, especially since Budapest refused to admit asylum seekers under an European Union scheme launched at the height of the migration crisis in 2015.

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Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini, who spearheaded the vote to enact Article 7 procedures, decried the CEU's "legal limbo" in a report (PDF) that detailed alleged violations of the EU's democratic principles. Similarly, the stance being taken by the Orban government is also being echoed in other countries such as Italy.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wasted little time in slamming the vote as "nothing less than the petty revenge of pro-immigration politicians".

Bringing the Article 7 procedure to the final stage would require the unanimous support of all other European Union member states, which analysts say is unlikely.

The European Commission initiated similar proceedings against Warsaw in December and three months later the Hungarian parliament adopted a resolution supporting Warsaw in its fight against the bloc, saying the commission does not have "the right to meddle" in the domestic affairs of member states and that it was "unjustified" in initiating Article 7 proceedings.

His typically feisty performance before EU lawmakers has boosted Orban's standing among nationalists at home and also among anti-immigrant parties that are expected to increae their presence in the next European Parliament (EP).

On Tuesday, Orban said his country was being targeted for choosing not to be "a country of migrants" as he dismissed charges of corruption.

"The agreement of CEU with another U.S. university does not mean that there is a school there", Szijjarto said, referring to a controversial amendment made in the education law previous year, which required the university to also offer courses in the United States.

"The European Parliament rightly stood up for the Hungarian people and for the EU".

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