In Unprecedented Vote, European Union Decides to Punish Hungary for 'Undemocratic Actions'
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Photo: Flikcr)

In a historic vote, European legislators voted against Hungary to launch censure action against its government over alleged breaches of the European Union's core values.

It is the first time that the parliament has launched the EU disciplinary process against a member state, known as Article 7. This rarely invoked process is designed to prevent member states from breaching the EU's "core values." The vote comes nine months after the European Commission used its power to launch the same process against Poland.

With 448 votes in favour, 197 against and 48 abstentions, the motion was passed in the plenary session on September 12. This vote exposes the growing divide in parts of Europe about the policies pursued by Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Since coming to power, Viktor Orban's government has taken a hardline stance against immigration and asylum seekers. It put up borders to prevent asylum seekers from entering the country and introduced a law which made it a criminal offence for lawyers and activists to help asylum seekers, under the banner of "facilitating illegal immigration". The law targets rights groups and NGOs and allows banning of organisations. In addition to the bill, the Hungarian parliament also passed a constitutional amendment stating an "alien population" cannot be settled in Hungary.

The vote in Strasbourg, France, came after a report from Dutch Green member of the European Parliament Judith Sargentini raised concerns about Hungary's erosion of democracy in recent years, including putting pressure on courts, widespread corruption, crackdown on the media and academic institutions.

Orban addressed the European Union parliament on Tuesday in defence of his government, labeling the threat of censure as a form of "blackmail" and an insult to Hungary. He labeled Sargentini’s report as an "abuse of power", and included "serious factual misrepresentations".

The vote against Hungary is symbolic of the growing tug-of-war in Europe between humanitarian values and increasingly nationalistic ones. For example, British Conservative legislators voted in favour of Orban as the Theresa May government is looking to exit the EU. One of the primary motivators for those who voted for Brexit was the migration of people from Europe to the UK. Similarly, the stance being taken by the Orban government is also being echoed in other countries such as Italy.