Hungary’s Orban vows to defy European Union pressure ahead of unprecedented vote

EU Parliament to Debate Possible Sanctions Against Hungary

EU Parliament to Debate Possible Sanctions Against Hungary

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he supported the European Parliament's decision on Wednesday to open a punitive procedure against Hungary for persistently flaunting democratic rules.

Some members of the European People's Party bloc - which Hungarian PM Viktor Orban's Fidesz movement belongs to - voted against their ally in Budapest.

It is the first time in EU history that the European Parliament has initiated and approved such a motion, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass and was approved by 69.4% of MEPs.

Earlier on Wednesday, the European Parliament greenlighted triggering of the Article 7 against Hungary with 448 votes in support against 197 counter votes.

"British Conservatives in the European Parliament should vote "yes" to defend those same values from the attacks they face in Hungary today".

"Hungary will not give in to blackmail", the Hungarian prime minister insisted, "but will defend the European borders and European values of democracy".

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Among other consequences, the country could be stripped of its vote in the European Council.

Liberal MEP Radu Ungureanu, as well as Hungarian minority MEPs Iuliu Winkler and Csaba Sogor, also voted against the measure.

Orban has for years deflected much of the worldwide condemnation of Hungary's electoral system, media freedoms, independence of the judiciary, mistreatment of asylum-seekers and refugees and limits on the functioning of non-governmental organizations.

Orban was in Strasbourg to respond to members of the European Parliament who, meeting for their first plenary session since the summer break, were debating whether to recommend a disciplinary procedure known as Article 7 against Hungary.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban, once a campaigner against Hungary's Soviet Communist overlords, has used his parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups in ways his opponents say breach European Union rules.

Polish politician Michal Boni said a vote on article 7, the law that would suspend Hungary's voting rights, was needed to "pour cold water on hot populist heads".

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"You say no more than the Hungarian people cannot decide for themselves what is in their own interest".

Addressing the parliament ahead of Orban, Greek leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: "Pro-European forces have a duty to stand side by side".

The leader of the EPP Group, Manfred Weber, said Article 7 that could lead to Hungary losing its European Union voting rights should be triggered against Hungary if Orban fails to reverse course.

Aside from its anti-immigrant stance, Orban's government is also accused of silencing independent media and academia, removing independent judges, cracking down on organisations helping homeless people, migrants or disadvantaged groups, such as Roma, and condoning government corruption.

It was a "coward's way out" for Orban to pretend this was a criticism of Hungary or its people rather than its government, he said.

After the vote, Sargentini thanked her colleagues for standing up "for the protection of democracy and the rule of law, above their interest in party politics".

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The motion against Orban's Hungary goes well beyond the migration issue. Should the EPP move against it, Fidesz would be under huge pressure to leave the group.

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