Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 7 News List

EU lawmakers vote to rebuke Orban

DEMOCRATIC SLIDE:The EU Parliament mustered the two-thirds majority needed for a proposal saying Hungary poses ‘a clear risk of serious breach’ of principles


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban yesterday received an unprecedented EU censure as EU lawmakers called for his government to face possible sanctions for eroding democratic standards.

Even though sanctions are ultimately unlikely, the European Parliament verdict highlights the clash between pro-EU forces and populists as both sides gear up for bloc-wide legislative elections.

Orban, in his third consecutive term as Hungary’s leader, has boasted about creating an “illiberal” state, thumbed his nose at the EU and helped thwart deeper European integration.

The vote was the “petty revenge” of pro-immigration forces using fraudulent methods, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto told reporters in Bucharest. “It’s a blatant show trial.”

The EU Parliament mustered the two-thirds majority needed for a proposal saying Hungary poses “a clear risk of a serious breach” of principles, including the rule of law.

The recommendation now goes to EU governments for deliberations, becoming a political hot potato along with efforts to protect democratic values in Poland, manage Brexit and contain US President Donald Trump’s challenge to the global order.

The 448-to-197 vote in the Strasbourg, France-based parliament reveals exasperation across Europe with Orban’s years of assault on civil liberties, judicial independence, educational freedom and media plurality.

Numerous members of Europe’s Christian Democratic faction, which includes Orban’s Fidesz party, abandoned him in the roll-call vote that became a litmus test with EU Parliament elections looming in May next year.

That expanded support for the move against Hungary from Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the post-communist left.

In a raucous debate on Tuesday in anticipation of the vote, Orban said the planned vote “insults the honor of the Hungarian nation” and was “a slap in the face.”

He also described the initiative as an attempt to “blackmail” Hungary into softening its hard-line opposition to migration.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberals in the chamber, said Orban was bent on wrecking the EU in tandem with the likes of populist Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and the goal of the proposal against Hungary was to “stop this nightmare.”

The split within the assembly’s Christian Democrats casts doubt about Fidesz’s future in the group and raises the prospect of new European alliances as French President Emmanuel Macron urges pro-EU forces to unite against nationalists, who gained ground most recently in Swedish elections on Sunday.

Scrutiny of democratic standards within the EU has moved up the bloc’s agenda steadily for two decades as policymakers have sought to tackle a discrepancy between the norms demanded of aspiring members and those enforced on existing ones.

Orban’s push for ever-more political control over state institutions has sparked fears in the EU of a shift toward authoritarian rule that communism’s collapse in eastern Europe more than a quarter century ago was deemed to have ended.

The EU Parliament vote scales back the political protection in Europe that Orban has enjoyed as a result of Fidesz’s membership of the bloc’s Christian Democratic club, which is called the European People’s Party (EPP).

The EPP, which has about 30 percent of the assembly’s seats, also includes German allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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