MEPs have voted overwhelmingly for action against the Hungarian government for undermining the bloc’s democratic values and rule of law.
The EU lawmakers voted 448-197 in favour of a report recommending the launch of a so-called Article 7 procedure, which could lead to the suspension of Hungary’s EU voting rights.
Some members of the European People’s Party bloc — which Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s Fidesz movement belongs to — voted against their ally in Budapest.
Mr Orban has for years faced international condemnation over Hungary’s electoral system, media freedoms, independence of the judiciary, mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and limits on the functioning of non-governmental organisations.
It is the first time in EU history that the European Parliament has initiated and approved such a motion, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass and was approved by 69.4% of MEPs.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the vote “petty revenge” against Hungary for its tough anti-migration policies.
He also claimed that the vote involved “massive fraud” since abstentions were not counted into the final tally, which made it easier to reach the needed majority.
There were 48 abstentions, so the 448 in favour exceeded the two-thirds needed only because it was based on 645 votes. If the abstentions were counted into the final tally, there would have been a total 693 votes, so the 448 in favour would not have reached two-thirds.
Mr Szijjarto said Hungary was considering legal options to appeal against the result because of the way the vote was tallied.
But Judith Sargentini, who presented the report prepared by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, welcomed the outcome.
“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,” Ms Sargentini said. “The Hungarian people deserve better. They deserve freedom of speech, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and equality, all of which are enshrined in the European treaties.”
“This is a historic result for Hungarian citizens and for European citizens everywhere, that the European Parliament has voted by a large majority to stand up for the values we all hold dear,” Ms Sargentini said.
EPP leader Mandred Weber, who earlier was supportive of Mr Orban and is seeking to become the European Commission president next year, said he had voted for triggering Article 7.
“I have always been in favour of building bridges and I want to continue to do so, but yesterday (Tuesday) I didn’t see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his EU partners and address our concerns,” Mr Manfred tweeted.