EU votes to initiate sanctions procedure against Hungary

Judith Sargentini (centre) reacts after the vote on the situation in Hungary.
Judith Sargentini (centre) reacts after the vote on the situation in Hungary.PHOTO: AFP

STRASBOURG (France) • The European Union Parliament voted yesterday to initiate a punitive procedure against Hungary for persistently flouting democratic rules.

With 448 votes in favour, 197 against and 48 abstentions, the motion was passed in a Strasbourg plenary session, the first time the European legislature has triggered the so-called Article 7 procedure against an EU member state.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pressured courts, media and non-governmental groups, as well as refused to take in asylum-seekers arriving in Europe.

Though the European Union has often protested, it has largely failed to stop what his critics decry as his growing authoritarianism. But a surge in support for nationalist and populist politicians across the bloc has galvanised a stronger reaction.

Speaking in front of the assembly on Tuesday, Mr Orban said he would not bow to EU's "blackmail" but will stick to his policies.

The vote means the other EU states must now look at what to do with Hungary. The most severe punishment under the Article 7 procedure is stripping Hungary of its voting rights in the EU. But that is unlikely to happen as the rest of the EU needs unanimity and Poland's nationalist and anti-immigration government is expected to block any tough action against Mr Orban.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the decision to start a punitive procedure was the "petty revenge" of pro-immigration politicians against Hungary. He said Hungary would seek legal ways to challenge the ruling as abstaining votes were not counted, and this, he said, changed the vote's outcome.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called yesterday for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the US dollar. "We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene," he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg in his annual state-of-the-union speech. "The euro must become the face and the instrument of a new, more sovereign Europe," he said as he called for the bloc to become more of a global player and exert more influence internationally.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the decision to start a punitive procedure was the "petty revenge" of pro-immigration politicians against Hungary.

Mr Juncker yesterday also renewed a pledge of close trade and security ties with Britain after Brexit, but said the European Union would not compromise on key withdrawal terms. The EU will not allow Britain to participate only in some parts of the bloc's single market after Brexit without honouring all of its rules.

The EU respects Britain's decision to leave, Mr Juncker said. "But we also ask the British government to understand that someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same privileged position as a member state."

In his speech, he called for establishing an EU border and coastguard force of 10,000 people in two years, as the bloc bolsters efforts to reduce migration.

He also said the European Union should offer a free trade agreement to the whole of the African continent and a new investment alliance.

Mr Juncker said he had talked with African leaders and was proposing an alliance to boost sustainable investment, which he said could create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next five years.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'EU votes to initiate sanctions procedure against Hungary'. Print Edition | Subscribe