EU steps up pressure on Hungary

By bne IntelliNews May 16, 2017

The European Union on May 16 appeared to step up its challenge to the Hungarian government's efforts to build an "illiberal democracy".

The European Parliament announced it is set adopt a resolution on May 17 aimed at starting preparations for invoking Article 7 against Hungary for breaching EU values in the contested CEU case. The EU also set a June deadline for the country to comply with the bloc's migrant quota system the same day.

The joint motion in the European Parliament was tabled by four left-leaning factions, reported Politico. However, some members of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), to which Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party is affiliated are also likely to vote in favour of the text. The document states that the current situation in Hungary “represents a clear risk of a serious breach of the values” of the EU treaties.

Hungary’s parliament passed legislation on April 4 modifying the law on higher education in an expedited procedure. The legislation threatens to put an end to the operations of the Central European University, founded by George Soros, the US-Hungarian philanthropist, in 1991. Later that month a law on NGO's was passed that compels foreign-funded organisations to register with authorities and represent themselves to the public as such.

The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary on April 27 over the CEU, and gave the government one month to respond, rather than the usual two. That was taken as a sign the EU is taking the matter seriously.

However, the recent defeat of the far-right populist Front National in the French presidential election appears to have boosted confidence in Brussels to try to take the bloc forward to fight the nationalist and conservative populist challenge set by the likes of Hungary. Under pressure from the EPP, Orban pledged in late April to comply with demands of the commission.

Triggering Article 7, which is commonly referred to as the "nuclear option," would lead to the suspension of voting rights in the Council of Europe. Such a move would have to be approved by all member states, however,  and Hungary's close ally Poland would likely veto any such move. That said, Warsaw is also in the sights of an EU that appears rejuvenated somewhat by the French election.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on May 16 set a June deadline for both Hungary and Poland to take their share asylum seekers under the quota plan agreed in 2015. However, the official was only able to threaten infringement procedures against the pair.

Hungary recently had its day in the European Court of Justice to challenge the asylum relocation scheme, while an infringement procedure will cut little ice in Budapest, given that Orban has made the prevention of immigration a cornerstone of his government's support over recent years. Hungary has so far accepted none of the 1,294 refugees it was allocated to host under the migrant quotas, and the country has been blasted internationally for inhumane treatment of refugees seeking to enter the country.

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