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EU Parliament calls to strip Hungary of voting rights in rule-of-law clash – POLITICO

EU Parliament calls to strip Hungary of voting rights in rule-of-law clash – POLITICO

STRASBOURG — MEPs demanded the EU Council explore the possibility of stripping Hungary of its EU voting rights in a clash with Budapest over the rule of law.

In a vote Thursday at the European Parliament, a majority of MEPs backed a nonbinding resolution calling on the other 26 EU countries’ governments to use a sub-clause in the EU treaties “to take action and to determine whether Hungary has committed serious and persistent breaches of EU values.”

It’s the latest salvo in a yearslong standoff between the Parliament — which successfully triggered a similar and still ongoing procedure in 2018 — and Hungary’s self-styled “illiberal” leader Viktor Orbán who is accused of riding roughshod over democratic values and the independence of the judicial system, and who has held up fresh EU funding for war-hit Ukraine.

Hungarian liberal lawmaker Katalin Cseh said in a statement: “This House shows that we are serious when it comes to defending the rule of law in our Union and that we are not afraid of Prime Minister Orbán’s blackmailing attempts. The Commission will now have to face the consequences for selling out our EU values.” 

Earlier Orbán accused MEPs of wanting to “strip people of their rights to make decisions on their future,” he said on X. “What an anti-democratic position!”

The MEPs’ move has no legal effect as it is not down to the European Parliament to take such a measure, but it sends a political signal to the other EU institutions about the extent of unhappiness with MEPs about Orbán’s backsliding on the rule of law, and how little is being done by the EU to address it. 120 MEPs had already signed a widely circulated but equally nonbinding petition calling for the same measure.

The Parliament’s move comes days before an EU leaders’ summit in February where the Commission and EU countries are hoping to coax Hungary into reversing its opposition to release EU funding for war-hit Ukraine.

MEPs also demanded exploring the possibility of taking the EU’s executive to the Court of Justice of the European Union outraged at its decision to unfreeze some €10 billion for Hungary. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week told MEPs the move was justified — though she riled up some MEPs by leaving before the debate finished. The Parliament’s legal affairs committee, in tandem with the Parliament’s legal service, will now have to examine the feasibility of launching such a case, in which as a first step the Court would be asked to check the legality of the Commission’s unfreezing of funds.

MEPs did not support a push by the liberal Renew Europe group to threaten to withdraw confidence in the European Commission if it was to unfreeze more funds for Hungary, a sum that currently stands at some €20 billion of EU funds.

Senior liberal lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt launched an excoriating attack on von der Leyen during this week’s debate. But the center-right EPP group threatened to blow up the entire resolution if the motion of censure passed, and it ultimately failed by a large margin.

A bid from the far left to suspend Hungary’s presidency of the rotating Council of the EU — which will span July to December this year — also failed.

In the end 345 MEPs voted in favor of the resolution, 104 against and 29 abstained.

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