Thursday, February 29, 2024

EU members move to strip Hungary of voting rights

About 120 members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg have signed a petition to strip Hungary of its voting powers in the European Union, an influential Finnish MEP announced on Friday.

Article 7 allows the bloc to suspend a member for “persistently breaching” the bloc’s values such as human rights, democracy, equality and the rule of law. If a third of the members of the European Commission and a two-thirds majority in the 705-member Parliament agree, a “qualified majority” can suspend a member’s rights, including the vote in the European Council.

MEP Petri Sarvamaa of Finland launched the petition earlier this week and has gathered 120 signatures so far, he said on X (formerly Twitter) on Friday.

Sarvamaa has accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of holding the EU “hostage” over aid to Ukraine and insisted that stripping him of his rights was the “only way to protect the values of the European Union and ensure the functioning of decision-making processes” in the bloc.

“It would also be sending a message to all Member States that the EU will not tolerate any backsliding on the Rule of Law or disrupting the principle of sincere cooperation,” he said. “Our main task is to protect the European way of life and democracy.”

While the text of the actual resolution against Orban is still being negotiated, Sarvamaa said it was “very possible” that Article 7.2 “will be included in some form.” The provision has never been invoked in the bloc’s history.

Sarvamaa’s initiative came as the EU and Orban were negotiating a way to unblock the €50 billion ($54.6 billion) aid package for Ukraine. On Friday, Financial Times reported that the bloc was willing to accept Orban’s proposal to have an annual evaluation. Brussels has also released €10 billion in funding for Budapest that it had been withholding.

Orban has been an outspoken critic of the EU’s Ukraine policy, insisting that the bloc should work for peace rather than unconditionally backing Kiev in the conflict with Moscow. His government has refused to send weapons to Ukraine or allow their transit through Hungary.

With Budapest assuming the rotating presidency of the European Council in July, Orban might even become the acting president, which is something Brussels “desperately” wants to avoid, according to Politico.

“Above all, we want to preserve the EU’s decision-making ability in these difficult times, when joint decisions are needed, for example, to support Ukraine,” Sarvamaa said in a statement earlier this week. He noted that Orban could no longer rely on support from Poland – where a new pro-Brussels government recently took over – but might turn to Slovakia or the Netherlands, which recently elected populists. 

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