BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union lawmakers on Thursday said that Hungary’s nationalist government is deliberately trying to undermine the bloc’s democratic values and they deplored the failure of the 26 other EU countries to take action that would bring the country back into line.
In a resolution that passed in a 433-123 vote, with 28 abstentions, the parliamentarians raised concerns about Hungary’s constitutional and electoral systems, judicial independence, possible corruption, public procurement irregularities, LGBTQ+ rights, as well as media, academic and religious freedoms.
The vote is the latest in a series of showdowns between the EU's institutions and Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government in Budapest. The European Commission is expected to announce on Sunday that it is prepared to suspend payments of some EU money to Hungary.
The French Greens parliamentarian who chaperoned the resolution through the assembly, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, said that “for the first time, an EU institution is stating the sad truth, that Hungary is no longer a democracy.”
In the text, the lawmakers condemned “the deliberate and systematic efforts of the Hungarian Government to undermine the founding values of the Union.”
The vote is highly symbolic in that it sets Hungary apart from other EU countries in its alleged failure to uphold values enshrined in the EU treaty like “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”
But the vote, which came during a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, doesn't impose any penalty on Orban’s government, nor does it bind other EU countries into taking any particular action.
In their resolution, the lawmakers said that the Hungarian government — which Orban characterizes as an “illiberal democracy” — has become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.” In part, they blame EU member countries for this, for turning a blind eye to possible abuses.
Delbos-Corfield said that Orban and the ruling Fidesz party “have put their time and effort into tearing apart the fabric of democracy and ripping up the rule of law instead of supporting their citizens.”
“The costs for Hungarian citizens are clear: They are having their rights removed and opportunities undermined, all while their state is stripped apart by autocrats and oligarchs,” she said in a statement.
Lawmakers opposing a report that contains the resolution said that it contains “subjective opinions and politically biased statements, and reflects vague concerns, value judgements and double standards.”
Hungary has long been on a collision course with its European partners. It has routinely blocked joint statements, decisions and events. These range from high-level NATO meetings with Ukraine to an EU vote on corporate tax and a common EU position on an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.
The government in Budapest has opposed some EU sanctions against Russia, notably a freeze on the assets of Russia’s Orthodox Church patriarch, as well as energy-related measures against Moscow.
Members of the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, are holding a meeting in Brussels on Sunday, when they are expected to announce a cut in part of Hungary's EU funding unless it takes action to end its democratic backsliding.
In a document shared at the commission on July 20, Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that suspending around 70% of the funding in some EU programs, notably related to public contract procurement, “can be considered proportionate.” It's unclear how much money that would involve.
A full suspension of EU funds is unlikely. Any action must be approved by the member countries, and this requires a “qualified majority,” which amounts to 55% of the 27 members representing at least 65% of the total EU population.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern that if the far right wins elections in Italy on Sept. 25 it could be difficult to establish that majority.