MEPs set to trigger Article 7 procedure against Hungary

MEPs are being urged to back a major crackdown on alleged human rights abuses in Hungary.

They will vote next week on whether to initiate the procedure to determine if Hungary is breaching the EU’s founding values.

A report authored by Greens MEP Judith Sargentini to go before the European Parliament accuses Hungary of serious violations of EU values and recommends triggering sanction proceedings.

Ahead of the vote in Strasbourg, an alliance of NGOs have written to MEPs  urging them to approve introduction of the so called Article 7 procedure against Hungary.

Article 7 is the process which sets up a mechanism to guarantee the protection of EU core values, with an early warning system in case of a risk of breaches and a sanctions mechanism in the event of a “serious and persistent breach by a member state.

Article 7 is a mechanism of the Lisbon Treaty that opens a path for sanctions against a member state and a temporary loss of EU Council voting rights. It is triggered when a member state violates European values and the rule of law. It was invoked for the first time last year against Poland.

In the letter, NGOs call on MEPs to vote for sanctions, because “European leaders have accommodated, coaxed and warned the government of Hungary. Those efforts have proven futile.”

The NGOs include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters without Borders.

The letter, seen by this site, says, “Europe enjoys a wide political spectrum but it cannot be stretched to allow the denial of rights.If unchecked, the deterioration of respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law in Hungary will continue and spread further across Europe.

“The lack of clear action (at EU level) has emboldened Hungary’s increasingly autocratic leadership.”

They conclude, “The vote on 12 September will give MEPs a decision: uphold EU values or abandon them.”

The vote in plenary is expected to be tight, according to MEPs. It is unclear how many MEPs back the measure, however. The European People's Party (EPP), which consists of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), strongly opposes disciplinary moves against Hungary. The EPP is the largest party in parliament.Hungary has found itself at odds with the EU over a range of issues in the last two years, notably changes to the country’s constitution. It is claimed these amount to a direct attack on human rights and civil liberties in Hungary.

In July, the Commission upped the ante when it referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice, claiming that its treatment of asylum seekers was in breach of EU rules. The Commission accused Hungary of expelling refugees without respecting appropriate safeguards, also adding that Hungary’s practice of “the indefinite detention of asylum seekers in transit zones without respecting the applicable procedural guarantees” was against EU law. While this referral is the final step of a procedure started in 2015, the Commission also launched another infringement procedure against Hungary yesterday over its new ‘Stop Soros’ law.

The institution argued that the new law “curtail[s] the right to asylum in a way which is incompatible with the Asylum Qualifications Directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,” adding that it “also unduly restricts the exercise of free movement rights of EU citizens without due regard for procedural guarantees or for the rights of the people affected.”

A Parliamentary committee recently backed a report from Greens/EFA MEP Judith Sargentini for member states to trigger Article 7 sanctions procedures against Hungary. Since Viktor Orban's re-election in April the Hungarian government is accused by some MEPs, including the Greens, of continuing its “authoritarian” crack down on civil society, academia and freedom of speech. In June the Hungarian government passed the "Stop Soros" package of laws which, it is claimed, aim to single out NGOs working on migration in the country and will make it almost impossible for organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to continue their operations in Hungary.

"How long will the EU stand by and watch Hungary's 'illiberal' descent away from democracy? The rights of the Hungarian people to free speech and equality under the law must be protected from Viktor Orban's desire to drive the country into authoritarianism. It's time for the EU to stand-up to Orban for the Hungarian people and defend our shared values of freedom of speech and the rule of law," says Sargentini.

 Her report, which will be voted on 12 September,looks into the infringement of fundamental principles and values by the Hungarian government, recommends that the European Council initiate proceedings against Hungary in accordance with Article 7 which would see the country lose voting rights in the Council. The findings which were drawn up by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee and supported by the Budgetary Control, Constitutional Affairs, Culture and Education, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committees. 

Sargentini, who visited Hungary in January as part of her investigation, said the text  takes into account input from a wide range of experts and representatives, including those of the Commission, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the United Nations, OSCE as well as national and international courts.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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