Hungarian PM faces crucial debate at European Parliament

Hungarian PM faces crucial debate at European Parliament
Hungarian PM Viktor Orban faces a heated debate at the European Parliament
By bne IntelliNews September 11, 2018

Hungary's ruling Fidesz party has called on opposition MEPs to reject the Sargentini report in the European Parliament this week, according to local media reports on September 10. 

The European Parliament will hold a plenary debate on Tuesday about a report drafted by Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini. The report raises numerous concerns about freedom of association and expression in Hungary, the functioning of the constitutional system, and the rights of refugees.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to be drilled at the plenary session of the EP on Tuesday for breaching EU values. The outcome of the vote, scheduled for the following day, could have a serious impact on Fidesz’s position within the European People’s Party (EPP).

MEPs are expected to vote Wednesday on whether to ask the Council to trigger an Article 7 process due to the “clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.”  

If passed by a two-thirds majority, it could, eventually, result in Hungary losing its voting rights in the Council, although such a move would require unanimity among the other 27 member countries, something that would likely be very hard to achieve.

Orban has asked to speak in person to MEPs during the debate, but he will only get seven minutes to make his case. The last time he was in Strasbourg, he got 20 minutes and the chance to react to MEPs’ comments, which he won’t have this time.

Fidesz claims that the "pro-migration majority" in the EP is preparing to launch a last and desperate attack on Hungary to take revenge on the country for refusing to take in migrants.

The Hungarian government and its media have used the Sargentini report to foment hatred towards the EU and George Soros, with the aim of boosting support for the ruling parties ahead of the 2019 European Parliament election, commentators have said.

At this weekend’s Kotcse picnic, the informal gathering of right-wing intellectuals, think-tanks and businessmen, Orban laid out plans for another amendment to the constitution, but no news surfaced on what he told the crowd about the document condemning Hungary.

However, the Hungarian prime minister has repeatedly said that the EP election next May will be dominated by the subject of migration, where European citizens will pass a judgement on the European elite and whether it has handled immigration properly. 

Pressure mounting on Fidesz 

Europe’s future hangs in balance at the vote, said Michael Ignatieff, head of embattled private university CEU, founded by George Soros. Speaking to The Guardian, he said the action of conservative MEPs would be telling.  

The issue of decision for European conservatives is whether they like what Orban says about democracy and academic freedom and a free press, Ignatieff added. 

The EPP, the largest faction in the European Parliament, is split over whether to expel Orban’s Fidesz party from its ranks for his infringements of Hungary’s democratic values. The EPP’s leader Manfred Weber, who announced his bid to run as the group’s candidate to be the next European Commission president, is in favour of keeping Fidesz within the fold.

He argues that it is a way to keep Orban in check and moderate his actions while preventing him from joining more marginal Eurosceptic forces. Orban has emerged as a figurehead for far-right politicians and there is speculation that he could form a new fraction with the likes of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. 

On Monday night, the opposition Socialist party announced that its two MEPs will vote for the findings of the Sargentini report. The 12 chapters of the report condemn the disintegration of the rule-governed state and the Socialists agree with its findings concerning the administration of justice, constitutionality, and social affairs, the faction leader of the party told Hungarian media.