The European parliament has adopted a resolution condemning the “serious deterioration of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights” in Hungary, beginning a process that could, in theory, lead to the country losing its voting rights in the EU Council. Hungary has faced accusations from Brussels and human rights groups that since Viktor Orban’s Fidesz government came to power in 2011 it has clamped down on asylum seekers, tightened rules on NGOs, and threatened press and academic freedom in the country.
Following the vote on Wednesday, the EU Parliament’s civil liberties committee will be tasked with drawing up a formal resolution to investigate whether there is a “clear risk of serious breach” of EU values in Hungary. If Hungary fails to address the recommendations set out in the resolution, the EU can, after a series of votes, move to remove Budapest’s voting rights. However, this unprecedented move is unlikely to come to pass given that it would require a unanimous vote to trigger the sanctions and Hungary can count on Poland, if not other countries too, exercising their veto to block it. Poland, whose right-wing government has allied itself closely with Hungary, has also fallen afoul of Brussels for threatening the independence of the judiciary by stacking a constitutional court with government-appointed judges.
MEPs last week called on Poland to uphold the rule of law and reverse the changes to the constitutional court but stopped short of issuing any sanctions.
Last month the EU launched a probe into Hungary’s higher education law that requires third-level institutions to be registered in the EU, a measure which is seen as targeting the US-based Central European University. The CEU was founded by the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, whose Open Foundation is regularly attacked by Orban as a foreign body trying to impose liberal, pro-immigration values onto Hungary.