EU Parliament Reprimands Hungary, Opening Political Fight

CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) – With drama and bitter accusations, the European Parliament’s battling factions – largely divided between left-wing and right-wing parties – hurled insults at each other Tuesday during a debate on whether Hungary should face sanctions for what some say are anti-democratic laws passed in recent years under a nationalist government.

Hungary faces punishment by the European Union – including the loss of EU funding – for a series of legal, legislative and political steps the eastern European nation has taken since Viktor Orban and his right-wing party, the Fidesz Party, seized power in 2010.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban smiles at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday Sept.11, 2018. The European Parliament is debating whether Hungary should face political sanctions for policies that opponents say are against the EU’s democratic values and the rule of law. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

On Wednesday, the European Parliament will vote on whether Hungary has violated EU constitutional laws and should face sanctions. The vote is expected to be tight.

After a summer break, the European Parliament, based in Strasbourg, France, is holding a plenary session, where debate over Hungary and its nationalistic politics take center stage.

Tuesday was a day of drama where Europe’s tensions were put on display: Present versus past, capitalism versus communism, right versus left, the West versus the East, nationalism versus globalism.

Hungary is the second eastern European nation with an entrenched right-wing nationalist party in power to face EU sanctions.

In May, the European Parliament voted to sanction Poland for similar alleged violations of the EU’s constitutional laws.

Any eventual punishment against Hungary would need to be approved by a unanimous vote of the political heads of state in the EU – excluding, however, Hungary’s own president.

And so, with Poland facing similar sanctions, analysts say Poland would likely block any vote to punish Hungary.

Punishment could include the loss of funding from the EU and even suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in EU affairs.

Hungary under Orban’s Fidesz Party has been accused of a series of violations, spanning from repression of the freedom of the press to xenophobia and even widespread totalitarian-like corruption.

On Tuesday, parliamentarians were given a chance to speak out on the proposal to punish Hungary.

“You are here as the head of the most corrupt government in Europe,” said Udo Bullman, a German parliamentarian and chairman of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

He made his comments as he pointed in the direction of Orban, who was seated close by.

Many lawmakers in western Europe fear that a tide of authoritarian and anti-democratic regimes are taking hold of governments in the former communist bloc and now threaten the integrity of the EU.

At its crux, the debate is over how the EU was founded after World War II with the goal of fostering democracy and peace in Europe.

Following the decision to sanction Poland, it is possible that the European Parliament will vote Wednesday to sanction Hungary.

“The vote is going to be close,” said Otilia Dhand, an analyst with Teneo Intelligence, a London-based political risk analysis firm, told Courthouse News. “It will be difficult to say which way it will go.”

Orban made brief remarks during the debate.

An outspoken critic of the EU, he denied allegations that his administration has violated European laws.

He called the Parliament’s actions “blackmail” and said, “We will stand up to you.”

Orban is a divisive figure, largely because of his anti-immigration rhetoric and pro-Christian statements.

On Tuesday, in his defense, he kept to this stance and vowed that Hungarians had “decided that their country is not going to be a country of migrants.”

In the European Parliament, he has his supporters.

Ryszard Legutko, a Polish parliamentarian and member of the European Conservatives and Reformists, called the EU’s actions “an attack of a democratically elected government.”

“If you don’t like the election, then just abolish the [Hungarian] election,” Legutko said with sarcasm.

Shortly afterwards, Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian parliamentarian and member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, called Orban and his government a “seed of discord who will ultimately destroy the European project.”

He added: “Please stop this nightmare.”

Marie-Christine Vergiat, a French parliamentarian and member of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, also charged that Orban’s government was guilty of corruption.

“There are many funds that have been misappropriated in your favor,” she said. She also called him xenophobic.

Nigel Farage, an anti-EU British parliamentarian and leader of a faction known as Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, called the proceedings against Hungary “extreme bullying.”

Farage compared the European Parliament’s actions to communist-era “show trials.”

“They want to strip you of your voting rights,” Farage charged. “It’s not just your country that has been insulted, you have been insulted.”

He added: “Come and join the Brexit club, you’ll love it.”

Although it is unlikely that the EU will impose sanctions on Hungary, Dhand, the analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said the debate over Hungary’s actions is important.

“Like everything in European politics, it is about the dialogue,” she said. “The dialogue is more important than the end result.”

She said Hungary would likely yield to demands made by the EU.

“The [Hungarian] government is very pragmatic; they will yield quietly,” she said.

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