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16 September 2018, 04:27 | Darnell Patrick
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The European Parliament on Wednesday launched an action that could unleash unprecedented political sanctions against Viktor Orban's populist Hungarian government for posing a "systemic threat" to the EU's founding values.
If approved, the motion would go to the EU's national leaders, theoretically opening the way for sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the bloc.
The vote represents a particular challenge for EPP's German head Manfred Weber since he announced his bid for the presidency of the EU's executive Commission next year.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said the approval of the report was "petty revenge by pro-migration politicians".
Article 7 sanctions can only be brought upon a member of the European Union that violates the values of "human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities". The vote that passed on a 448 to 197 with 48 abstentions, leaves the Eastern European country open to disciplinary measures that may include revocation of voting rights.
But Italy's anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said his League party's six European Union lawmakers would support Orban.
Wednesday's vote is the first time the European Parliament has voted to take such action against a member state under EU rules. He also decried the omission of abstentions in the final tally which helped attain the needed majority in the vote.
Orban said he expects a "serious legal debate" regarding this decision.
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"Viktor Orban's government has been leading the charge against European values by silencing independent media, replacing critical judges, and putting academia on a leash", Ms Sargentini said. "The Hungarian people deserve better".
Opposition parties hailed the EP's decision as a win for democracy that rejected the Hungarian government's illiberal policies.
"If there isn't a clear signal from the European Parliament, then we have a very tough few months ahead of us, " said Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Budapest-based Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
Even EPP leader Mandred Weber, who earlier was supportive of Orban and is seeking to become the European Commission president next year, said he had voted for triggering Article 7.
On Tuesday Weber said the European Union might need to consider launching the sanctions procedure, under Article 7.1 of the bloc's Lisbon Treaty, if Budapest did not address the criticisms.
The decision creates head winds for Orban's ambitious quest to remake the continent in his model of "illiberal democracy" - a bloc that would be closer to Russian Federation, less open to migration, and less concerned about independent judiciaries, a free press, and minority rights.
Orban, who was re-elected in April to his third consecutive term in office, fourth overall also said Tuesday that he expected lawmakers to approve the motion with the support of some EPP lawmakers.
"They want to brand Hungary and want to weaken the resistance of Hungary", Orban said.
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