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EU lawmakers move to punish Hungary

China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-14 07:36

BRUSSELS - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suffered a rare political setback on Wednesday as European Union lawmakers voted to pursue unprecedented action against his government for allegedly undermining the bloc's democratic values and rule of law.

Hungary called the action fraudulent and vowed to challenge it.

Despite the official rebuke, Orban is showing no signs of compromise.

While he seeks to keep his ruling Fidesz party within the conservative European People's Party, or EPP, the largest and most powerful group in the European assembly, its possible ouster may push him closer to other far-right groups in Europe, like the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, or France's National Rally led by Marine le Pen.

The lawmakers voted 448-197 in favor of a report recommending the launch of a so-called Article 7 procedure, which could lead to the suspension of Hungary's EU voting rights. Needing a two-thirds majority to pass, it was approved by 69.4 percent of the lawmakers.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, echoing Orban's longtime position that allowed him to win a third consecutive term in April, called the vote "petty revenge" against Hungary for its tough anti-migrant policies.

On Orban's orders, fences were built in 2015 on Hungary's southern borders with Serbia and Croatia to divert the flow of migrants, and the country has adopted increasingly restrictive asylum rules.

Orban has framed the migration issue, which he predicts will be the main theme of European elections next year. He met with Italian Interior Minister Mateo Salvini last month in Milan. He referred to Salvini, the leader of the rightwing League party and a staunch opponent of migration, as his "hero".

If Orban and his Fidesz party are ousted from the EPP, he is likely to look to strengthen his links to the far-right in Europe. For now, Orban says he does not want to leave the EPP but simply reform it into a party opposing migration.

Hungary claimed its defeat in the European Parliament involved "massive fraud" since 48 abstentions weren't counted in the final tally, which made it easier to reach the needed majority. Szijjarto said Hungary was considering legal options to appeal the result.

While EPP leader Manfred Weber had urged him to show a willingness to compromise on some issues, Orban said his policies wouldn't change.

"I have nothing to compromise about since the questions they objected to were decided by the Hungarian people," Orban said on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, after the debate on Hungary. "There is nothing to talk about."

Ap - Afp - Xinhua

(China Daily 09/14/2018 page11)

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