Parliamentary groups in row over Hungary

Parliament is set to vote on a resolution on Hungary on Wednesday, which the EPP group has refused to back.

Viktor Orbán | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 May 2017

Parliament's S&D group leader Gianni Pittella has condemned the EPP group for allegedly failing to condemn Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán over possible plans to close the respected Central European University (CEU) and the rights situation in the country.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Pittella said, "Hungary is going in the wrong direction and we cannot allow any further deterioration."

On Wednesday, MEPs will vote on a resolution assessing the fundamental rights situation in Hungary following an April plenary debate. The EPP has not signed up for the resolution which will condemn Hungary, in particular the controversial higher education law, perceived by some as targeting the Central European University.


The Commission recently said it plans to take legal action on Hungary's law changes on media pluralism, the independence of the judiciary and the tightening of rules for non-governmental organisations and asylum seekers.

The Commission said that the law is not compatible with the "fundamental internal market freedoms, notably the freedom to provide services."

It has sent a letter of formal notice to the Hungarian government and the Hungarian authorities will now have one month to respond to legal concerns.

Orbán said that accusations that his government wanted to close the CEU were false.

But Pittella told a news conference, "I deeply regret that the EPP will not embrace the battle we're fighting against Hungary in the same way as us and denounce this behaviour and this drift to illiberalism.

"We must do all we can to stop Orbán continuing down this path and I hope the EPP will vote in favour of the resolution tomorrow. I also appeal to Manfred Weber to set aside party interests and give pride of place to the interests of Europe here.

"The EPP position is very timid and reticent. Orbán came to the Parliament the other week and we heard what he said. He's trying to turn himself into a victim figure, saying millions of refugees threaten the country."

The Italian added, "But he has closed down a university and does not accept what the majority of this Parliament have said and to allow this university to continue to exist. That is Orbán for you. But do we hear any criticism from the EPP on this?"

Speaking separately, the Greens co-leader Ska Keller said, "We are not ready to stand by and just watch what is going on in Hungary. It would be a great pity if the EPP fail to sign up to this resolution on Wednesday."

She pointed out that Orbán is a member of the EPP but said, "He should not be left alone just because he is a friend of Angela Merkel and others in the EPP."

EPP group leader Manfred Weber hit back at the criticism. 

On Hungary, he said, "The EPP position is crystal clear. We have voiced criticism of recent events in Hungary and its unacceptable behaviour in certain areas. Orbán, though, should be given a chance first to react to what we are saying. 

"We criticise what needs criticising but we also must give Hungary a fair hearing and a chance to respond. Yes, there is a party political aspect to this but we have risen above that. 

"We have to be seen to be dealing fairly with each other. Starting a procedure against Hungary before we hear back from them could cause damage and is not fair."

Weber added, "Yes, closing down a university is unacceptable - this is crystal clear - but talks on this and other issues between the EU and Hungary are ongoing."

The German deputy told a news conference in Parliament, "The trouble is that some people in Parliament seem more concerned with talking about pure party politics and this does a disservice to us all.

"I have spoken to Orbán and, yes, he is provocative in some ways but Hungary is a stable country. There are some things that are extremely problematic for us but Orbán has always been ready to accept our red lines. I still think he is ready to do so but there are red lines that he cannot cross in terms of respecting procedures and rules."


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