Hungarian PM Orban says EU bid to censure his government is plot by liberals and socialists

Hungarian prime minister defends record in Strasbourg ahead of crunch vote

Jon Stone
Tuesday 11 September 2018 17:59 BST
Orban speaks at the European Parliament in Strasbourg
Orban speaks at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Reuters)

Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister has characterised an EU bid to censure his government as the work of liberals and socialists seeking “revenge” for his success.

Speaking in Strasbourg ahead of a European Parliament vote on whether to take legal action against Hungary, Mr Orban claimed “forces supporting immigrants and migrants against Hungary and the Hungarian people” were pushing the vote.

The Hungarian government has been accused of violating press freedoms, undermining judicial independence, and waging a state-backed antisemitic campaign against Jewish businessman George Soros.

It is also subject to allegations of corruption relating to the alleged misspending EU funds by Mr Orban’s friends and family, while the Prime Minister himself has described refugees as "Muslim invaders" and been accused of being deeply Islamophobic.

MEPs on Wednesday will vote on whether to call for the invocation of Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, beginning a process that could, if taken to its conclusion, see Hungary stripped of its voting right at the European Council.

“We are the most successful party in the European Parliament. Our opponents, socialists and liberals, are not happy to see our success,” Mr Orban told MEPs in a speech on Tuesday.

“This is understandable, but to take revenge on Hungarians because they did not choose them is not fair and is not worthy of Europeans.”

Our opponents, socialists and liberals, are not happy to see our success

Viktor Orban

In fact, MEPs from across the political spectrum of the European Parliament are expected to back the censure vote, including parties such as the right-wing Austrian OeVP, who are in coalition with the far-right at a national level.

One notable exception not backing the motion are the UK’s Conservatives, who lined up with continental far-right parties including the French Front National, Austria’s FPOe, and Sweden Democrats at the report stage to oppose the motion.

A spokesperson for the Conservatives confirmed the party would be voting against and said that the report process was too politicised. Labour branded the Tories’ move “absolutely disgraceful”.

Mr Orban conceded that Wednesday’s motion would likely receive a majority of votes in the Parliament, however to be successful it needs to be backed by a two-thirds supermajority, making its passage more uncertain. As such, the votes of British MEPs could be crucial.

The Hungarian prime minister tried to characterise the censure motion as an attack not on his government, but on the nation of Hungary.

“You are not going to condemn a government, but a country, as well as a nation,” he argued.

Defending his government’s policies, the prime minister said: “We do have contentious issues and we will have in the future. We have a different picture of the nature of Christianity in Europe, about the role of nations and national culture. We think differently about the essence and purpose of the family and we do endorse radically different views on migration.

“If we mean that we want Europe to be united in diversity then these differences cannot be a reason to brand any other countries and for it to be excluded from joint decisions. We would never go as far as silencing those who do not agree with us.”

MEPs both defending and lambasted Mr Orban in a plenary debate following his speech. Sophie In ’t Veld, a Dutch liberal, said: “Mr Orban, you claim that the European Union wants to improse things upon your country, but your country was the first country to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. I’m sure you read Article 2 before you put your signature to it. All we are doing is keeping you to your word.

“You know what, the Hungarian people want you to keep your word because they want to remain at the heart of the European Union. But then you have to play by the rules.”

Malin Björk, a Swedish left-wing MEP, said she would be voting for the report because “anything else would be shameful”.

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