Judith Sargentini, who drafted a report calling for EU action against alleged rights abuses in Hungary, says she is “reassured” her recommendation received 69 per cent support from deputies who voted on Wednesday.
The Dutch Greens/EFA group member was speaking after Parliament approved triggering Article 7, which could pave the way for a suspension of Hungary’s EU voting rights.
In a vote in Strasbourg, the proposal to use Article 7 was approved by 448 votes to 197. To be adopted, the proposal required an absolute majority of members (376) and two thirds of the votes cast.
The adopted resolution said there was a “clear risk of a serious breach” of the EU founding values in Hungary.
It said that judicial independence, freedom of expression, corruption, rights of minorities, and the situation of migrants and refugees are key concerns.
MEPs urged member states to counter the threat to civil liberties said to be posed by the implementation of a series of laws in Hungary in recent years.
Speaking after the vote at a news conference, Sargentini said, “Basically, this vote today tells Hungary to shape up.”
She said, “I always said it would be a close call, so I thank in particular EPP group leader Manfred Weber, who was very clear this week in saying he would support Article 7.
“This was very responsible of him, especially for a Spitzenkandidat candidate.”
She told reporters, “It was a great gesture although it will now be up to the EPP to decide what their constituent countries will be.”
This was a reference to threats last week by the EPP that it would suspend Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party if a majority of MEPs voted for Article 7.
Sargentini said, “In the end we got a nice majority, about 69 per cent of the votes cast in favour of Article 7.
“I am assured by this and take it as a positive sign of Parliament wanting action.”
She admitted, however, that despite the big majority the next steps are “questionable.”
“When the Commission triggered Article7 against Poland in November 2017 there was no timeline. However, this cannot rest.”
She also welcomed Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurtz saying that Austrian EPP MEPs would vote in favour of an Article 7 procedure.
“The fact that he said his members would vote in favour is a positive sign that the Austrian presidency will make a move on this.”
She said, “In the week that we debate the state of the Union, the European Parliament sends out an important message: We stand up for the rights of all Europeans, including Hungarian citizens and we defend our European values.
“Now it is up to the European leaders to take their responsibility and stop watching from the sidelines as the rule of law is destroyed in Hungary. This is unacceptable for a Union that is built on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.”
MEPs called on EU countries to initiate the procedure laid down in Article 7, noting that despite the Hungarian authorities’ readiness to discuss the legality of any specific measure, they have not addressed the situation, “and many concerns remain”.
They stressed that this is the preventive phase of the procedure, providing for a dialogue with the country concerned, and that it is “intended to avoid possible sanctions”.
Parliament said that Hungary’s accession to the EU “was a voluntary act based on a sovereign decision, with a broad consensus across the political spectrum” and underline that any Hungarian government has a duty to eliminate the risk of a serious breach of the EU’s values.”
When asked what “she has against Hungary,” Sargentini said, “I like the country, the wine and recently saw a great painting exhibition in Hungary. I go on to holidays to Hungary and will continue to do so. There is nothing wrong with the country or its people, but it has a government that takes away people’s rights.”
Commenting on the vote, Manfred Weber said, “The EPP group wants to keep the dialogue and continue bringing Europe together. The dialogue should begin, not end, in the upcoming weeks and months. It is clear for us that our European values are not negotiable.”
S&D group leader Udo Bullmann said, “Today the European Parliament has shown that is not afraid to act when the rule of law is under threat in a member state. For seven years, the Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán has attempted to crack down on independent organisations that provide checks and balances on their power. Today we have said that enough is enough. We will not watch Hungary slip into authoritarian rule.”
His ALDE group counterpart, Guy Verhofstadt, added, “Finally, an overwhelming majority of MEPs have triggered Article 7, recognising that Hungary has drifted too far away from European values. We are not willing to put up with it any longer.
“Orbán’s explanations just do not wash anymore and it is great news that colleagues from his own political family are turning against him. Hungary deserves better, Europe deserves better and we are going to face down anyone who aims to destroy the European project, that’s the message of today.”