In an unprecedented move against a member state, the European Parliament has triggered Article 7 of the EU’s governing treaty meant to protect its core principles: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including minority rights.
The EU accuses the Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban of breaching those values by passing anti-refugee laws, manipulating the media, disregarding government corruption and removing independent judges.
Hungary has taken a harsh stance on refugees and migrants since the 2015-2016 migration crisis. It was the first country to erect barbed wire fences at the borders and went on to pass laws aimed at deterring migrants from attempting transit through its territory or from seeking asylum in Hungary.
The decision to trigger Article 7 followed Hungary’s ongoing refusal to comply with mandatory migrant quotas put in place by the EU and came two weeks after Hungarian authorities stopped food distribution for rejected asylum seekers being held in transit zones on the country’s border with Serbia.
Budapest denies the accusations and defends its policies. But with EU Parliament elections scheduled to take place in May 2019, could the divisions that have been exposed lead to political change across the EU? And what is next for Hungary and Europe?
“We are not violating them [EU core values],” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Al Jazeera.
“The report which was pushed through the European Parliament has a list of 69 points, 69 accusations against Hungary out of which 13 points have been totally agreed upon by the European Commission and the government … and there are 37 points which are qualified lies …” he said, adding that the vote against Hungary involved “cheating” because abstentions were not counted.
Hungary could potentially get stripped off its EU voting rights, but according to Szijjarto, “the Polish government and Czech prime minister have made it clear that they will veto any sanctions against Hungary.”
He believes that the “EU needs to undergo some reforms” and when asked about different visions for Europe and global governance, Szijjarto said “when the French president speaks about multilateralism and then I look at his European policies, I am a little bit concerned because the measures he would like to see in the European Union would be rather unfavourable for Hungary … And his [Macron’s] vision for Europe when it comes to migration, social issues, taxation, economic issues is totally showing to another direction compared to our vision for the future.”
Szijjarto said Hungary has been accused of being nationalistic many times. “We are a country which will never give up the right to make the decision about the future of Hungary on our own. We will never give up the right to make a decision with whom we would like to live together in our country … whom we would like to let enter the territory of our country – and whom we don’t.”
“We will always be a nation of freedom fighters. We don’t like colonialism. Sometimes when the French foreign minister or the French president speaks about Hungary, they speak as if we were a colony … So, I think mutual respect is what is lacking from the global set of foreign policies currently.”
In response to criticism of Hungary’s tough stance on refugees Szijjarto said: “We have sealed off the green border. So the only way you can enter the country is the legal way … My question is whether … anyone could show me any point in international relations which could say that you have the right to wake up in the morning, pick a country you would like to live in and, in order to get there, violate a series of borders.”
“It’s not a human right … My question is how you can be a refugee and violate the borders of five or six safe countries.”
Szijjarto denies allegations that Prime Minister Orban has selected judges friendly to his government and that the prime minister channelled public and EU development funds to projects run by family members and friends in Lake Balaton.
“It’s simply a lie that the prime minister uses public funds for private reasons,” he said. “It’s simply a lie. I have to reject that and it’s really a scandal that such kind of things can be said, to be honest.”
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