EU Moves to Strip Hungary’s Member Voting Rights

Viktor Orbán. Photo by European People's Party.

“BRUSSELS — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suffered a rare political setback Wednesday as European Union lawmakers voted to pursue unprecedented action against his government for allegedly undermining the bloc’s democratic values and rule of law. Hungary called the action fraudulent and vowed to challenge it,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The lawmakers voted 448-197 in favor 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. Needing a two-thirds majority to pass, it was approved by 69.4 percent of the lawmakers.

Associated Press September 12, 2018

The fifty-five-year-old Viktor Orban has been Hungary’s Prime Minister since May 2010. It was a return to power for him after having served as its prime minister from 1993-2002. Orban’s political alliances are with the party known as “national conservative” Fidesz, a European populist movement whose main focus is primarily on “national interests and upholding cultural or ethnic identity…and are usually Euroseptics,” riding to power in 2010 on an anti -immigration platform wave.

As Orban continues to show no signs of compromising on his hardline stances, he also tries to maintain keeping his Fidesz party within the European People’s Party (EEP), “the largest and most powerful group in the European assembly,” however, concerns are growing that this latest move may push him further right towards other rising nationalistic far-right groups, such as “the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) or France’s National Rally led by Marine le Pen” if he should break with the EPP.

Throughout Orban’s eight years criticisms continued to grow while he deflected with empty promises of compromise and defiant dismissals while making more and more moves seen as centralizing his own powers within his office and “sliding toward an authoritarian regime,” with little push-back from the EU and international community.

Orban slid into power in 2010 with a “two-thirds majority,” and once in power, Hungary “quickly adopted a new constitution following eight calamitous years of Socialist Party government that led the country to the brink of bankruptcy.”

“Media freedoms and judicial independence are dwindling; corruption and the enrichment of Orban allies with EU and state funds are on the rise; asylum-seekers and refuges are mistreated; and there are efforts to limit the activities of nongovernmental organizations, ” the AP reported.

Reports were surfacing more frequently by 2013 pointing out “Hungary’s increasingly aggressive moves against media, judiciary and central bank independence” and were already topics for discussion within the European Union member heads of state “raising the possibility of Hungary could be thrown out of the EU” amid concerns  Orban was “flouting EU rules on human rights” after Hungary, in another aggressive move against the judiciary, seen as Orban consolidating more power, voted to amend its constitution allowing legislation “to bypass approval from the constitutional court,” while defying the EU’s Commission to delay voting.

The move means European laws designed to protect the freedom of the media and the independence of the judiciary could be compromised, if not violated. Following the vote, the European Commission said it would investigate whether Hungary’s new laws are anti-democratic and violate the bloc’s rules on human rights and EU treaties.

Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, told CNBC on Thursday evening that a country could be thrown out of the EU if it did not respect European rules and rights, but added that he was wary of passing judgement prematurely.

CNBC March 15, 2013

EU leaders were holding a two-day summit in Brussels over the debit crises at the time, Orban once again dismissed the criticism saying, “Hungary’s democratic institutions are strong enough to defend themselves.”

Orban and his majority Fidesz party had already made a number of moves on the Hungarian Constitutional Court by 2012, included changing “the procedure for electing judges…so that the votes of Orban’s Fidesz party alone were enough to put judges on the bench,” expanding the number of judges from 11 to 15 and along with vacancies already scheduled, allowed him to place “seven judges in his first year and a half in office.”

By May 2018, the New York Times reported, Orban had still faced “little meaningful blowback – either inside or outside the country” began to face new obstacles.

Orban’s chief justice Tunde Hando was accused of “groundless interference” in the process of hiring and promoting judges in an investigative report from Hungary’s National Judicial Council, a 15 judge panel “tasked by law with scrutinizing Hando’s leadership,” alleging she “had abused her position by meddling in the hiring of senior judges.”

Follow the report, the EU announced that the “billions of euros” they sent member states “might in the future be dependent on the recipients’ safeguarding the independence of their judiciaries and investigating corruption.” Considering the money Hungary receives amounts to almost four percent of their GDP for almost a decade now, “one of the highest rates in the bloc” could prove to be an obstacle, especially among the growing allegations officials have made against a company Orban’s son-in-law once controlled for “misusing millions of euros from the bloc.”

Now, amid growing reports of human rights abuses with detained immigrants, as TNB reported in late August, “Hungary continues to run afoul of the European Union agreement on asylum seekers. The latest move involves denying food for adults who are appealing their asylum rejections.”

In addition to the government refusing to provide food, the asylum seekers are blocked from purchasing their own food, and nonprofit organizations are blocked from providing assistance as well. This is seen as a push-back against George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, which Prime Minister Viktor Orban sees as pushing for the end of Hungarian sovereignty. In fact, the law is called the “Stop Soros Legislative Package.” Soros has since moved his headquarters to Berlin.

Previously Orban, who ran on a populist anti-immigration platform, had installed an electrified razor wire fence on the border between Hungary and Serbia, and limited the number of asylum seekers to two per day.

The News Blender August 23, 2018

In response to the vote to recommend the EU’s Article 7 to proceed, Hungary’s Foreign Prime Minister Peter Szijjarto, “called the vote “petty revenge” against Hungary for its tough anti-migrant policies,” citing “massive fraud” since “48 abstentions weren’t counted,” saying that made it easier for them to reach the two-thirds majority vote needed and they were “considering legal options to appeal the results.” However, since changes to made to the Lisbon Treaty in 2007, when the EU grew from 15 to 27 members, reads “Parliament shall act by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast,” this would seem to exclude abstention votes.

Szijarto is in alignment with Orban’s hardline stance on immigrants, a stance that just won him a third consecutive term.

“This decision condemning Hungary and the Hungarian people was made because we Hungarians have demonstrated that migration is not a necessary process and that migration can be stopped,” Szijjarto said in Budapest.”

Orban predicts, the AP reports, that “the migration issue” will drive European elections next year “as one that goes beyond party lines.” He recently met with Mateo Slavini, the Italian Interior Minister, who is the leader of the “right-wing” League party and is also “a staunch opponent of migration,” calling Salvinin his “hero.”

As concerns continue to grow over Orban’s actions, they also include what Orban may do as a “Plan B” if he and his Fidesz party are ousted from the EPP. Manfred Weber, the EPP leader, “who earlier was supportive of Orban and is seeking to become the European Commission next year,” voted for Article 7 proceedings to move forward.

“I have always been in favor of building bridges and I want to continue to do so, but yesterday I didn’t see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his EU partners and address our concerns,” Weber tweeted. Weber had been urging Orban “to show a willingness to compromise,” but Orban said, the AP further reports, “his policies wouldn’t change.”

“I have nothing to compromise about since the questions they objected to were decided by the Hungarian people,” Orban said Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, after the debate on Hungary. “There is nothing to talk about.”

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