Poland to not support European Union sanctions against Hungary

Prime Minister Theresa May greets her Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban in 2016

The European Parliament on Wednesday launched an action that could unleash unprecedented political sanctions against Viktor Orban's populist Hungarian government for posing a "systemic threat" to the EU's founding values.

The most severe punishment under the Article 7 procedure is stripping the country of its voting rights in the European Union, however, that is highly unlikely to happen as the rest of the European Union needs unanimity and Poland's nationalist and anti-immigration government is expected to block any tough action against Mr Orban. Hungary called the action fraudulent and vowed to challenge it.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, echoing Orban's longtime position that allowed him to win a third-consecutive term in April, called the vote "petty revenge" against Hungary for its tough anti-migrant policies.

Poland, the biggest former communist country in the European Union, said it will oppose any sanctions imposed by the bloc on fellow member Hungary, accused of floating EU rules on democracy.

"The Sargentini report was not adopted today, because only by violating voting rules was it possible to reach the necessary two-thirds majority laid out in the treaty", Szajer said, arguing that if they had included abstentions, the two-thirds majority would not have been achieved.

The group may now consider whether to suspend Orban's Fidesz party.

The proposal concerning Hungary, which MEPs vote on 12 September, would be the first time that Parliament takes the initiative of recommending that the mechanism should be triggered.

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The deputy head of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said on Tuesday he shared its authors' concerns about "fundamental rights, corruption, the treatment of Roma and the independence of the judiciary" in Hungary under Orban. Szijjarto said Hungary was considering legal options to appeal the result.

The opposition to Viktor Orban received a boost last night when Manfred Weber, leader of the European Parliament's centre-right group the European People's Party (EPP), lost patience with his erstwhile ally and announced he would vote to trigger Article 7. "The European Parliament rightly stood up for the Hungarian people and for the EU".

With Britain about to leave the bloc altogether in March and Europeans voting in European Parliament elections in May, the row over Hungary - and Poland, which faces a similar sanctions procedure launched by the executive European Commission in 2017 -highlights tensions between nationalist and federalist camps.

Mr Orban has also expressed his desire to remain within the EPP, which he said was "deeply divided" on the issue of migration.

On 11 September, MEPs will discuss a proposal to the Council to trigger a procedure that seeks to prevent a serious breach of European Union values in Hungary.

The parties of Kurz and Orban both belong to the biggest faction in the European Parliament, the conservative European People's Party (EPP), which also includes lawmakers from the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"They want to brand Hungary and want to weaken the resistance of Hungary", Orban said.

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