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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban shows a document during a debate concerning Hungary's situation as part of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on September 11, 2018. © 2018 FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

(Budapest) – European Union (EU) foreign ministers should adopt a clear roadmap to declaring Hungary in serious breach of EU values, Human Rights Watch said today. Ministers meeting in the General Affairs Council session on October 16, 2018, are expected to discuss the situation in Hungary following a European Parliament resolution in September calling for political sanctions against Hungary.

“EU foreign ministers should seize this opportunity to send a clear signal opposing Hungary’s slide into authoritarianism,” said Lydia Gall, Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Hungarian government’s childish response, including vitriolic attacks on members of the European Parliament, just confirms the need for a strong rebuke.”

On September 12, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to adopt a report, authored by Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Judith Sargentini, outlining concerns with respect to rule of law in Hungary, including attacks on the judiciary, shrinking space for civil society, restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom, as well as abusive asylum laws.

The parliament asked governments to initiate proceedings to determine whether Hungary is in breach of founding EU values spelled out in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union. Such a determination could lead to use of the political sanctions envisioned in Article 7 of the same treaty, including suspension of voting rights.

The hard-hitting parliamentary report echoed numerous expressions of concern by other institutions, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as well as rights groups.

The Hungarian government of Prime Minister Victor Orbán vehemently denies any wrongdoing and instead has undertaken yet another distasteful publicly-funded smear campaign against Sargentini and other MEPs.

Action against Hungary under the EU Treaty is overdue, Human Rights Watch said. The European Commission has tried to address problematic laws and policies using its legal enforcement powers on a case-by-case basis, but the Orbán government has largely ignored the criticism and undertaken only minor, cosmetic changes that do not address core concerns. In contrast, the commission initiated Article 7 action against Poland in December 2017 for its attacks on the courts and other democratic checks and balances.

“Member states have a responsibility to stand up for fundamental rights and freedoms, and to speak out against member states flagrantly breaching those core values,” Gall said. “It’s time to tell Hungary and other member states they will pay a price for violating EU principles.” 

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