The European Parliament adopted a resolution to trigger Article 7 against Hungary on May 17, accusing Budapest of a serious deterioration of rule of law and democracy. The European Commission also said the same day it will move forward on an infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its asylum legislation.
Referred to as the “nuclear option”, Article 7 can be activated when there is a risk of a serious breach by a member state of the fundamental values of the EU. The move could see Hungary's voting rights in the Council of Europe suspended.
While it is likely that the resolution could be blocked during its progress through the EU legislative process, the move by MEPs reflects a step-up in confidence in Brussels to tackle the “illiberal” axis of Hungary and Poland. There have now been several official challenges thrown down to Warsaw and Budapest since the French election suggested the populist wave of Euroscepticism in Europe is on the wane.
The resolution was adopted by 393 votes to 221, with 64 abstentions. While the motion was put forward by four left-leaning factions, it received 33 votes from other blocs, including the European People’s Party (EPP). The conservative faction has been criticised for protecting Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, which is a member.
Hungary’s current fundamental rights situation justifies launching the formal procedure to determine whether there is a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values," the European Parliament said in a statement.
The MEPs demand in the resolution that legislation on asylum seekers and NGOs be repealed. They also want Hungary to comply with the demands of the European Commission regarding the Central European University, which the government is accused of trying to shut down. The commission should also monitor the use of EU funds, the resolution adds.
The law on NGOs, passed on April 27, compels foreign-funded organisations to register with authorities and represent themselves to the public as such. The bill is viewed by Hungary as another strike against the US-Hungarian (and Jewish) financier and philanthropist George Soros. The government has also passed a bill that threatens to put an end to the operations of the Soros-founded CEU.
The procedure to trigger Article 7, which was originally designed in response to previous difficulties in dealing with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban but has never been used, is long and complicated. It eventually requires four-fifths support in the Council of Europe – the body constituting the 28 heads of the EU member states. Hungary would likely receive support from Poland, and possibly from some other states that stress national sovereignty.
However, the EU appears set on showing Hungary and Poland that it is serious. The same day as the Article 7 resolution, the European Commission announced it has decided to move forward on an infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its asylum legislation by sending a complementary letter of formal notice. The follow up letter gives Hungary two months to respond to continued concerns.