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Unprecedented: MEPs call for triggering of Article 7 regarding Hungary’s ‘serious breach’ of EU values

Members of the European Parliament on Wednesday called for the triggering of Article 7, a procedure which may result in sanctions for Hungary, as they see a serious deterioration of rule of law and democracy in the country. The resolution was adopted by 393 votes to 221 with 64 abstentions, with some members of the European People's Party—home to Hungary's ruling Fidesz party— also voting in favor.

Hungarian-breached-EU-rules strict

The resolution calls for the launching of of Article 7(1) of the European Union Treaty. Under Article 7, a country can lose its voting rights in the European Council. The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will now draw up a formal resolution for a plenary vote. The resolution also calls on Hungary to repeal laws tightening rules against asylum-seekers and NGOs, and to reach an agreement with the US authorities regarding the Central European University. Moreover, the resolution asks the European Commission to strictly monitor the use of EU funds by the Hungarian Government.

Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union provides a mechanism to enforce EU values. Under Article 7(1), the Council may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values by a Member State and is intended to prevent an actual breach by addressing specific recommendations to the Member State in question.
The article can be triggered by one-third of Member States, by Parliament or by the Commission. The Council has to adopt a decision by a four-fifths majority after having received Parliament's consent which also requires a two-thirds majority of the votes cast and an absolute majority of MEPs.
The next phase is Article 7 (2), by which an actual breach of EU values can be determined by the Council on a proposal by a third of Member States or the Commission. The Council needs to decide by unanimity and the Parliament needs to give its consent.
Article 7 (3) launches sanctions, such as the suspension of voting rights in the Council.

The resolution's passage, however, does not automatically mean Article 7 will be implemented. The suspension of voting rights and full implementation of Article 7 can only take place after a unanimous vote of the European Council, which is made up of European Union governments. The European Parliament's vote is nevertheless a significant step toward sanctions, and a symbolic shift, marking the first time the body has called formally for any member state to face Article 7 sanctions.

Political group leaders and MEPs recently gave their views on Hungary's new education law, perceived as targeting the Central European University, the tightening of rules for NGOs and asylum seekers and a government survey entitled "National Consultation – Let's stop Brussels!"

While many MEPs took the view that the new education law is an attack on academic freedom and NGOs are being targeted to suppress critical voices, some defended the Hungarian government's moves by arguing that civil society needs rules and member states have the right to regulate education.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that accusations that his government wanted to close the CEU were false and portrayed the national consultation as a democratic tool. The law on NGOs follows a US example, he added.

"We would like to reform the EU, but Hungary is unquestionably committed to Europe," Orban said.

"For the @EPPGroup it is clear: European fundamental values like academic freedom are non-negotiable. #Hungary," European People's Party leader Manfred Weber tweeted ahead of the vote. While Weber himself has taken a conciliatory position toward Orbán, he was unable to ignore the growing criticism of Fidesz within the EPP's ranks.

"We don't exclude resorting to Article 7 but the procedure should be serious & the HU govt should be given the chance to react. #Hungary," he added.

Proponents of a strong stance on democracy within the EU greeted the move with joy.

"After 7 years of systematic breaches of our values in #Hungary, the activation of #Article7 is the only solution," tweeted member of the European Parliament Viviane Reding.

During the debate, UK's Nigel Farage said it's maybe time for Hungary to 'join the Brexit club,' hinting at the country leaving the European Union.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 May 2017 05:58

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