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Article 7 procedure against the Hungarian government

In September, the European Parliament took the historic step of voting to launch Article 7 procedures against Hungarian government. 448 votes to 197, a large majority in the European Parliament spanning the political spectrum, including the clear majority of EPP as well, approved the proposal. Approval means the European Parliament sees a clear risk of a serious breach of the EU founding values and the Parliament asks the Council to debate the issue. The values identified at risk are judicial independence, freedom of expression, corruption, rights of minorities, and the situation of migrants and refugees are key concerns. Launching Article 7 procedure sent a clear message to Viktor Orbán’s government, that he would no longer be able to disregard EU membership rules without facing the consequences. Although the government presented it as an unfair attack on the Hungarian nation, according to recent polls, the majority of Hungarian citizens are aware that this is a debate about the state of democracy in Hungary, and according to the same poll 51% of Hungarians would have voted in favour of the report

There are still many stages left in article seven procedure, the proposal for a Council decision will now be sent to the EU member states. They may determine the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach of the EU values in Hungary. Afterwards, the European Council may determine, by unanimity and with the Parliament’s consent, the existence in Hungary of a serious and persistent breach of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. A unanimous vote is unlikely to happen because both Poland and Hungary are in similar article 7 situations, and have pledged to vote against the punishment of the other.

Since the vote to trigger Article 7, there have been meetings regarding the next steps. After one such meeting, MEP Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL) criticized EU countries for stalling the process. She explained that as time is lost, “we see further deterioration of academic freedom and the undermining of judicial independence in Hungary”. The Hungarian government has distributed its assessment of the issues. But, as of now, it is not clear what will happen at the next ministers meeting in December.

The impact the Article 7 vote had on the EPP party is noteworthy because Orbán’s Fidesz party is a part of the European Parliment’s EPP. Benedek Jávor explains that earlier on, Orbán’s goal was to push the whole EPP into a more far-right position. Nevertheless, his allies within the EPP voted in favor of the Sargentini Report meaning, he was unsuccessful. The vote made clear that Orbán’s only allies are Eurosceptic, racist, far-right parties. An EPP summit that took place after the vote sent a unified message to Orbán by adopting a resolution in defence of liberal democracy in the face of rising populism across Europe, that showed Orbán cannot challenge basic EU rules and values.

Benedek Jávor discussed two possible future developments that may take place because of the Article 7 vote. The first is that Orbán will likely attempt to bring Eurosceptic far-right forces together into a political group at the European Parliament. A second possible development is practical sanctions on Hungary, which could happen even without a council decision on the Article 7 procedure. At the next multiannual financial framework, there is a proposed option to freeze payments of EU funds in cases of corruption. Meaning payments from the EU to Hungary could be frozen.