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14 September 2018, 03:55 | Darnell Patrick
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Orban denounced as insulting to Hungary's honor a report presented to the Strasbourg assembly that accuses his government of posing a "systemic threat" to the democratic values on which the European Union was founded.
It's the first time Article 7 has been triggered against a member state, just the start of a long process which could lead to Hungary's voting rights being suspended.
Much of Orban's conservative European People's Party in the European Parliament which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats voted in favour of the motion to sanction Hungary over the rule of law.
For years, Orban has successfully deflected much of the worldwide condemnation about Hungary's electoral system, press freedoms, independence of the judiciary, mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees and limitations on the functioning of non-governmental organizations, but criticism has been growing even within the European People's Party, to which his Fidesz party belongs.
The motion passed with the required two-thirds majority of 448 MEPs backing the declaration that Hungary is at "clear risk of serious breach" of European Union core values, including judicial independence, academic freedom and freedom of expression.
"Today's European Parliament decision was nothing but a petty revenge of pro-immigration politicians against Hungary", Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said during a news conference in Budapest on Wednesday.
He also said Hungary would seek legal ways to challenge the ruling as abstaining votes were not counted, and this, he said, changed the outcome of the vote.
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Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law - charges which he denies. "They deserve freedom of speech, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and equality, all of which are enshrined in the European treaties".
With Britain about to leave the bloc altogether in March and Europeans voting in European Parliament elections in May, the row over Hungary - and Poland, which faces a similar sanctions procedure launched by the executive European Commission in 2017 - highlights tensions between nationalist and federalist camps.
Dutch lawmaker Sophie in 't Veld urged the EU to consider cutting generous subsidies to Hungary, asking: "Why are we giving Mr Orban 87 million euros a week in order to destroy the European Union?"
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".
Other EU governments could halt any further action, however, and Poland - a fellow ex-communist state that is also facing an Article 7 procedure - has warned it would do so.
Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, also welcomed the result, citing the Hungarian government's "attempts to shut down civil society and independent voices in the media and academia".
"Orban is a hero and deserves the Nobel Prize". Orban might have lost some key allies as EPP lawmakers said their caucus meeting showed many would vote in favor of Article 7. "He protects his citizens against terror and defends the identity of his country", he said.
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