Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban on September 11 rejected criticism of his staunchly nationalistic policies by his colleagues in the European Parliament and accused the parliamentarians of trying to blackmail both him and his country after the EU threatened to sanctions Hungary of sanctions for violating the bloc’s core values.

In a bitter debate the night before MEPs are scheduled to vote on the introduction of sanctions against Budapest, a report by Greens MEP Judith Sargentini’s that was presented to the lawmakers detailed how Orban ’s government has “effectively silenced” the independent media in Hungary and put academia and members of the opposition “on a leash”.

Sargentini’s report also accused the Hungarian government of violating the European Union’s rules on the rule-of-law after Orban stripped Hungary’s judiciary of independent judges with those close with close ties to his government. Furthermore, according to the report, minority groups such as Roma and NGOs suffer in Hungary.

An indignant Orban regularly attempted to chastise the assembled group of parliamentarians, at one point invoking his own anti-Communist past and the millennium-old Christian tradition of his country as reasons for his decision to keep Hungarian on an independent path. He accused the Member States of trying to rob the Hungarian people of their democratic right to make “go their own way”.

“This report does not give respect to the Hungarian nation,” Orban told the lawmakers. “You think you know better than the Hungarian people what the Hungarian people need.”

Timmermans shares MEPs’ concerns

The First Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, weighed in on the matter saying the European Commission shared the same concerns as the Parliament about Hungary under Orban and the constant violation of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Timmermans pointing out that it was Brussels that had triggered a similar disciplinary procedure against Poland for their own violations of the EU’s regulations on the rule-of-law and basic democratic principles.

The Commission has been warning Orban in recent years that his dictatorial grip over the country could land Hungary in the European Court of Justice for his government’s harsh crackdown on everything from freedom of speech to the anti-Orban opposition’s right to assemble.

In his address, Timmermans added that the Commission “will not hesitate to take further action if necessary” should Orban refuse to comply with the Parliament’s eventual ruling onceSargentini’s report is reviewed by the MEPs.

“Democracy in our member states and in our European Union cannot exist without the rule of law,” Timmermans said.

Article 7 conditions

The European Parliament is expected to vote on a sanctions procedure that would suspend Hungary’s right to vote in all European Institutional bodies, a potential move that caused Orban to lash out at the lawmakers.

“You want to exclude a people from European decisions to silence those who do not agree with you,” said Orban, “You are condemning us because our homeland has not agreed to become a country of immigration, but we will not give in to blackmail, Hungary will defend its rights, including against you if necessary.”

A member of the European People’s Party (EPP), Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party could be left out in the cold as it faces the prospect of being thrown out of the EPP if the European Parliament decides to sanction Hungary. The leader of the EPP Group, Manfred Weber, said Article 7 that could lead to Hungary losing its EU voting rights should be triggered against Hungary if Orban fails to reverse course.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, launched the Article 7 proceedings against Poland over the erosion of judicial independence late last year.

The opposition Socialists and Democrats, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), Greens/European Free Alliance, and the European Left have all called on the EPP to drop Fidesz from its ranks.

“I will not go so far as late (US Senator) John McCain and call you ‘an EU fascist and (Europe’s) Vladimir Putin,” said ALDE leader and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofsatadt, adding “the reality though is that Hungary today could not join the EU under you…You say it is an action against Hungary, but you are not Hungary. You are the leader of a political party – Hungary is far more than what you are,” before concluding his comments with, “you are the seed of discord that will ultimately destroy our European project.”