EU parliament pushes Hungary sanctions over Orban policies

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The EU has warned that controversial reforms pushed through by populist governments in both Budapest and Warsaw pose systemic threats to the bloc's founding values such as respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

With 448 votes in favour, 197 against and 48 abstentions, the motion passed in the Strasbourg plenary session on Wednesday, the first time the European legislature has triggered "Article 7" procedure against an EU member state.

A year ago the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, launched similar steps under article seven against Poland over its alleged threat to the independence of the courts.

It remains far from clear whether the 751-strong European Parliament will be able to muster in Wednesday's vote the two-thirds majority needed to pass the censure motion, which accuses Hungary of persistently breaching core EU values.

Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty opens a path for sanctions against a member state and a temporary loss of EU Council voting rights. Although Orban's Fidesz party is part of the EPP, several of the lawmakers voted against their Hungarian allies.

"We stand up for the rights of all Europeans, including Hungarian citizens and we defend our European values", said Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green parliament member who led the effort. The controversial law also targeted a private university funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a Hungarian Jew who fled the country after Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union following the conclusion of the Second World War.

"I have nothing to compromise about since the questions they objected to were decided by the Hungarian people", Orban said Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, after the debate in the European Parliament on the report on Hungary.

Even Orban's fellow migration hardliner, Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, unexpectedly said his party's five European lawmakers would vote against Budapest.

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"I reject that the European Parliament's forces supporting immigration and migrants threaten, blackmail and with untrue accusations defame Hungary and the Hungarian people", he said during a feisty speech.

Weber said the EPP would decide later Tuesday whether to support the Article 7 action.

An immigration hard-liner, Orban has put pressure on courts, media and non-government groups since coming to power in 2010.

Dubbed so-called "nuclear option", article 7 of the European Union treaty is a mechanism for the European Union to steer wayward members back toward the values on which the world's largest trading bloc were founded, including respect for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

The motion against Orban's Hungary goes well beyond the migration issue.

The vote, however, has little chance of ending up with the ultimate penalty of Hungary being suspended from voting in the EU.

Socialist leader Udo Bullmann branded Orban "the head of the most corrupt government here inside the European Union", while liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt described the Hungarian leader as "the seed of discord that will ultimately destroy our European project".

The German MEP now serves as the head of the center-right EPP in the European Parliament.

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