If Hungary were to apply today to the EU, would we accept it? No, we wouldn’t.”

The impassionate rhetorical interrogation of the Dutch ALDE MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld set the tone for today’s debate in the Civil Liberties (LIBE) committee of the European Parliament about the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary.

Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini presented a draft proposal to the committee calling on the Council to determine whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.

The Civil Liberties Committee was tasked in May 2017 with studying the situation in Hungary, with a view to activating Article 7(1) of the EU Treaty.

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union is a procedure in the treaties of the European Union (EU) to suspend certain rights from a member state, such as voting rights.

In the plenary resolution of May 2017, MEPs stated that the situation in the country justifies triggering the procedure, which may result in sanctions for Hungary, including temporarily losing its voting rights in the Council.

According to Sargentini, lead MEP on the report, “the Hungarian people can no longer count on the fundamental rights that we take for granted in the rest of Europe.”

“In Europe, we commit ourselves to the shared values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights. Regrettably, Hungarians cannot be certain that they will be given honest and equal treatment by their government”, she added.

“I cannot reach any other conclusion than to call for the activation of article 7. We need to stand up for the Hungarian people whose rights have been undermined”, Sargentini concluded.

Several MEPs agreed with her assessment that there is a systemic risk to democracy and rule of law in Hungary and thanked Sargentini for the factual approach taken in the draft report. Other speakers demanded that this procedure is not used to gain political points and some criticised the attacks on a government widely supported by the Hungarian population.

S&D Group vice-president responsible for civil liberties, justice and home affairs, Josef Weidenholzer, said:

“The Hungarian government flaunts the fundamental values of the European Union. It has systematically acted to dismantle the rule of law since 2010. This is about the protection of the rule of law in Hungary and the credibility of the whole Union. Viktor Orbán disregards all the principles on which our Union is built. We need to act now before it is too late and use all the resources available to protect the fundamental rights of both Hungarians and all European citizens.”

The Hungarian Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi even said: “I feel shame for my country,” while the same ALDE Sophia in ‘t Veld spoke about Orban’s “salami tactics“, by slicing at liberties, announcing measures and taking them back, whil the “hate campaigns run by him are disgusting”. Sophia in ‘t Veld also attacked the chief of the EPP group in the EU Parliament Manfred Weber for “permanently supporting and helping Orban”.

The Civil Liberties Committee will vote on Sargentini’s proposal in June. The report will then be put to a vote by the whole Parliament in September. To be adopted, it has to be backed by two-thirds of the votes cast and an absolute majority of MEPs, i.e. at least 376 votes.