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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Hungary rejects European accusations of breaching EU values

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban said his country is being vilified for its anti-migrant stand

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. AP 

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban used a defiant address to the European parliament on Tuesday to push back against charges his government was in serious breach of recognised EU values after cracking down on civil society.

“I stand here in front of you and I defend my country,” Mr Orban said during the session in Strasbourg.

Orban’s intervention comes ahead of a vote on whether to trigger a mechanism envisaged by Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union aimed at sanctioning a member state in breach of EU core values.

Hungary has been targeted on the charges that it changed the constitution without due process seven times since 2010, imposed early mass retirement on judges, criminalised homelessness and cracked down on media outlets. It is also subject to allegations of corruption for allegedly misspending EU funds and repression of non-government organisations, including those funded by philanthropist Georges Soros.

If the 31-page-document draft proposal arguing in favour of triggering Article 7 is endorsed by Parliament, it would constitute the first time that the EU takes this course of action.

Mr Orban pushed back on the accusations and argued that his country was being punished for taking an anti-immigration stand.

“We do have contentious issues and we will have them in the future,” Mr Orban said. “These differences cannot be the reason for excluding a country from the [EU] decision [process.”

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The proposal will be voted by Parliament on Wednesday. To be adopted, it needs the backing of an absolute majority of MEPs and two thirds of the votes cast.

It calls for a swift repeal of the laws tightening rules against asylum-seekers and non-governmental organizations, as well as for the strict monitoring of EU funds allocated to the Hungarian government.

Hungary could also lose its voting rights in the Council if the proposal is voted unanimously among the other 27 member countries.

However, this is not likely to happen, given that Britain’s Tory MPs in Strasbourg have already announced that they will defend Mr Orban against EU sanctions.

Dutch Green MP Judith Sargentini – who has been leading the process – said that the EU is “dealing with a serious situation which needs to be dealt with instantly. We stand up for the rights of the citizens of Hungary and European values in the EU. The time given to the Hungarian government has worsened the situation. That is why Parliament is stepping in.”

On his part, Mr Orban argued that the EU’s move was undemocratic and divisive. “The EU is condemning Hungary because the country decided that it will not be a country of migrants,” he said. “I condemn this blackmail.”

Mr Orban was re-elected for the third time with a large majority in April this year. Few other EU leaders can claim a record to rival his own, the Hungarian prime minister noted.

Judit Varga, the Hungarian minister of state for EU relations, used a newspaper article to say the parliament was out of touch with changing European public opinion. European politics is not a simple monochrome any more. The true colours of Europe and its citizens are not only represented by the left-liberal rainbow coalition that dominated the last two decades of EU politics.”

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