European Union legislators have voted overwhelmingly in favour of launching action against the Hungarian government for persistently flouting democratic rules.
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.
Since sweeping to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pressured courts, media and non-governmental groups, as well as refusing to take in asylum seekers arriving in Europe.
Though the EU has often protested, it has largely failed to stop what his critics decry as Orban’s growing authoritarianism.
But a surge in support for nationalist and populist politicians across the bloc galvanised a stronger reaction. Speaking in front of the assembly on Tuesday, Orban said he would not bow to the EU’s “blackmail” but stick to his policies.
In June, Hungary’s parliament overwhelmingly passed a law imposing jail terms for anybody seen to be aiding undocumented immigrants.
The law targets rights groups and NGOs and allows banning of organisations.
In addition to the bill, the parliament also passed a constitutional amendment stating an “alien population” cannot be settled in Hungary.
Aside from its anti-immigrant stance, Orban’s government is also accused of silencing independent media and academia, removing independent judges, cracking down on organisations helping homeless people, migrants or disadvantaged groups, such as Roma, and condoning government corruption.
The vote means the other EU states must now look at what to do with Hungary. The most severe punishment under the Article 7 procedure is stripping Hungary of its voting rights in the EU.
However, that move is highly unlikely as the rest of the EU needs unanimity and Poland’s nationalist and anti-immigration government is expected to block any tough action against Orban.