As Hungary swings further to the right, more than two-thirds of members in the European Parliament voted on Wednesday (Sept. 12) to censure the EU member state over alleged breaches of the bloc’s core values.
In the eight years since Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban came to power, his government has introduced hardline anti-immigration laws that include criminalizing offering help to asylum seekers. (They claim doing so is tantamount to “facilitating illegal immigration.”) Among its concerns, the EU cited threats to individuals’ privacy and data protection, as well as diminishing freedoms of expression, association, and religion. Refugees and minorities are said to be particularly at risk.
Orban isn’t pleased. On Tuesday, he addressed the Parliament, denying the charges and labeling the threats a form of insulting “blackmail.” Other anti-immigration politicians around Europe have since tweeted their support, including British MEP Nigel Farage and the anti-Islam Dutch populist Geert Wilders.
For now, in an effort to avoid sanctions, Hungary is subject only to so-called “preventative measures.” More drastic measures, including suspending the member state’s voting rights, can only be taken at the behest of the heads of the 28 member states.
Whatever the outcome, it’s a historic step. The EU’s Article 7, which allows the body to suspend member states over breaching the union’s founding principles, has never been triggered before.
Despite ire from the right, many have applauded the EU for sticking to its guns. “The European Parliament rightly stood up for the Hungarian people and for the EU,” Amnesty International human rights expert Berber Biala-Hettinga said in a statement. “They made it clear that human rights, the rule of law and democratic values are not up for negotiation.”