European Union punishes Hungary with unprecedented action

German Chancellor Merkel welcomes Czech Prime Minister Babis in Berlin

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law - charges which he denies.

Using unprecedented disciplinary action, the European Parliament voted Wednesday to sanction Hungary, saying the country poses a "systemic threat" to democracy and the rule of law.

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to sanction Hungary for neglecting norms on democracy, civil rights and corruption in a first bid to launch the punitive process of the EU treaty's Article 7. However, the vote has little chance of ending up with the ultimate penalty of Hungary being suspended from voting in the EU.

It is the first time in EU history that the European Parliament had initiated and approved such a motion, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass and was approved by 69.4 percent of the lawmakers.

Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini, who spearheaded the vote to enact Article 7 procedures, decried the CEU's "legal limbo" in a report (PDF) that detailed alleged violations of the EU's democratic principles.

When asked for comment, a Hungarian government representative cited Palkovics' interview from June in which he had said they are "currently examining whether actual training is being performed by the CEU in the United States with the involvement of education experts".

However, Hungary has other supporters within the EU.

"Each state member of the European Union has the sovereign right to implement domestic reforms as it deems appropriate", it said in a statement. He added that a similar case involving Poland was being handled through the European Commission. "MEPs across the political spectrum have taken a historic stand in defending the EU's democratic values and the rights of its citizens".

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Some politicians from other countries also defended Mr Orban's government.

His typically feisty performance before EU lawmakers has boosted Orban's standing among nationalists at home and also among anti-immigrant parties that are expected to increae their presence in the next European Parliament (EP).

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the vote the "petty revenge of proimmigration politicians" and said Hungary would fight it.

"I have always been in favor of building bridges and I want to continue to do so, but yesterday (Tuesday) I didn't see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his European Union partners and address our concerns", Manfred tweeted. The message to government is clear: undermining and violating basic rights and values can not go unpunished in Europe, Socialist MEP Istvan Ujhelyi said.

In a brief speech to parliament on Tuesday, Orban vowed that Hungary would resist any attempt to "blackmail" it into softening its anti-migrant stance, which he charged was the motive behind the vote.

The European Parliament launched the action, citing the concern of a "serious breach of European values".

Farage said the European Union - with the backing of USA financier George Soros "and people like that" - wanted to "break down" nation states and "change the entire identity of the entire continent".

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