Tory MEPs voted to protect Orbán the authoritarian. This is a stain on Britain

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Tory MEPs voted to protect Orbán the authoritarian. This is a stain on Britain

Opinion Hungary Tory MEPs voted to protect Orbán the authoritarian. This is a stain on Britain Steven Allen Hungary’s government threatens the rule of law, but British MEPs still refused to back a European move to discipline it

Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini is applauded in the European parliament after the vote was passed.
Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini is applauded in the European parliament after the vote was passed. Photograph: Jean-Francois Badias/AP

Those who don’t follow European politics avidly may have missed the first time the European parliament pressed the button on it s so-called “nuclear option” against a member state of the EU for consistently flouting “European values”.

MEPs voted yesterday to trigger a so-called “rule of law” procedure against the Hungarian government under article 7 of the Lisbon treaty. The decision could eventually lead to sanctions against Hungary, including suspension of its voting rights on the European council.

The decision is a culmination of an investigation led by Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini documenting the rapid rollback in civil liberties and human rights in the country. Her report documents, in striking detail, the muscular and systematic approach of the Hungarian government in undermining the rule of law by removing the independence of the judiciary and restricting freedom of speech, including the media. It also notes, with concern, numerous discriminatory policies targeting the country’s minority communities.

MEPs vote to pursue action against Hungary over Orbán crackdown Read more

Criticising Hungary’s targeting of the Budapest-based Central European University and a broader anti-migrant and anti-Brussels campaign, the resolution was overwhelmingly passed 448-197 with 48 abstentions, surpassing the crucial two-thirds majority required.

It represents a decisive rejection of prime minister Viktor Orbán’s nativist programme to create an “illiberal democracy” in the heart of Europe, an ideology which has begun to spread more widely in the region.

Hours before the debate in Strasbourg, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, released a report on reprisals against human rights defenders who collaborate with the United Nations. Hungary was the only EU country to be censured. The long list of allegations ranged from the recent adoption of legislation to criminalise those assisting migrants, as well as repeated and targeted attacks against NGOs working on disability rights, freedom of expression and civil liberties.

For those of us working on the ground in Hungary, the international community has been painfully slow to respond to Orbán’s antidemocratic campaign.

Before elections this year, the Hungarian government launched a massive billboard campaign against Hungarian-born philanthropist, George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations funds human rights organisations in Hungary and around the world. The Jewish financier has become a popular punching bag for the government, which has portrayed him as imposing liberal, foreign interests and undermining the homogeneity of Hungarian culture.

Even acknowledging the tight political control of the media in Hungary, many of us were deeply shocked when Orbán’s Fidesz party was returned to government with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in the April elections, immediately giving them the power to amend the constitution. Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticised the “pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis”.

We thought the rhetoric might dial down after the election. But we were wrong. Within days, a government-aligned weekly journal, FigyelÅ', published a now-infamous “black list” of 200 people claimed to be pursuing “foreign interests” in the country. The list contained the names of academics, human rights lawyers, journalists and numerous Hungarian NGO workers.

One might wonder, then, who would vote to defend Orbán? The issue has split the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political bloc to which Orbán’s Fidesz party belongs, resulting in calls for the EPP to stop sheltering Orbán and for the party’s expulsion from the bloc.

While the majority of EPP members voted to trigger article 7 yesterday, including the bloc’s leader Manfred Weber, British Conservative MEPs chose to back Orbán and to call off the procedure. The c ynical manoeuvres were a reward for his declared support for the British government in Brexit negotiations.

As a Brit in Budapest, the appalling decision of Tory MEPs to align with the Hungarian government was something of a slap in the face. At a time when the rule of law and human rights are being rapidly eroded, and with Orbán leading the charge against minorities, it proved yet again how low the British Conservative party will go in pursuing its ideological antipathy towards anything European.

But, in doing so, the Tories have saddled up with a proto-fascist political party which is every bit as threatening to British interests as it is to the wider European Union.

• Steven Allen works for a human rights NGO in Budapest and has a law degree from the University of London. This article is written in his personal capacity.

Topics
  • Hungary
  • Opinion
  • Europe
  • European Union
  • Viktor Orbà ¡n
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Source: Google News Hungary | Netizen 24 Hungary

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