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The Sargentini Report: What’s Next for Hungary and the EU?

2018.09.13.

The results from last week’s vote on the Sargentini Report are surprising considering how apathetic many of Fidesz’s prominent leaders appeared about the plenary session. László Kövér, the Speaker of the Parliament, compared the report to the Die Hard film series last week: “The original was good, but it’s boring to make sequels just because the first was popular.” He’s referring to the procedures the EP has followed against Hungary over the last eight years. Balázs Orban, the Minister of State at Prime Minister’s Office said the report can’t harm the country due to the difficult procedural rules.

Circumstances Have Drastically Changed in the Final Minutes: Will Article Seven Be Launched Against Hungary?

The Hungarian public expected the past to repeat itself: liberal, socialist and green MEPs accuse the government of abusing the fundamental rights and values of the community; the PM goes to Strasbourg and gives a passionate speech demanding more respect for Hungary; the report doesn’t receive the two-thirds majority, and Orbán doesn’t win the battle directly, but still manages to grow stronger politically.

But, this time, the People’s Party disrupted the status quo

Yesterday, two-thirds of the EPP members voted against Hungary. After Monday’s events, it didn’t come as a surprise when Sebastian Kurz announced his support for the report and declared he wouldn’t hesitate to launch the Article 7 procedure. He also stated that if the report receives a two-thirds majority, Fidesz should be ousted from the EPP. President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that allowing Fidesz to remain a member of the EPP could be problematic.

Index.hu collected the names of every EPP member who voted against Orbán’s government. The newspaper found that, in the last year, 67 EPP representatives voted in favor of making the report, while 114 voted to support the continuation of the procedure this week. This group primarily consists of French, German, Romanian and Austrian MEPs. Manfred Weber, the leader of the party, called for members to chose a side, but his announcement of voting in favor to launch the procedure tilted the scale.

MTI Photo: Szecsõdi Balázs

However, Fidesz seemed unable to convince the MEPs of their argument. A pro-Fidesz newspaper called Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz a Soros-Agent right before the vote, leading to political turmoil in that country.

Afterward, the Austrian Chancellor publicly announced his stance against the Hungarian Government. Orbán criticized the German representatives in his opening speech, saying “the decision has already been made in Berlin,” meaning that Angela Merkel directly controls the German faction. Furthermore, the Hungarian PM’s communication could irritate some of the Romanian MEPs; Orbán accused the EP of a double standard, claiming it just investigates Hungary’s infringements, but not Romania’s. Many experts argue that Orbán initially wanted the omission of the Sargentini report.

But could a new party system come about over this one issue?

Orbán’s primary argument is that the liberals attacked him because of his stance on illegal migration. He also announced he is eager to make a partnership with any parties, irrespective of their ideology, if they are against illegal migration, saying “migration is not a party political issue.” But the case of Sebastian Kurz shows that not every anti-migration politician is necessary Pro-Orbán. According to Index.hu, one-third of the members of Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy voted against him. Orbán has continuously stated that he wants to stay in the EPP, but his strategy could vary the results of the EP election.

(L-R) Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Lega Nord party member, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) member Harald Vilimsky, Marine Le Pen, France’s National Front political party head, Dutch far-right Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders and Belgium’s Flemish right wing Vlaams Belang party member Gerolf Annemans pose during a joint news conference at the European Parliament in Brussels May 28, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (BELGIUM – Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) – RTRR8ZF

However, it’s clear the EPP has many voters that agree with Orbán’s stance on immigration and his agenda against the Nations of Europe. As one of Bloomberg’s journalists expressed: “Pushing away Orbán means pushing these voters toward the fringe far-right parties. It’s fine for the European Parliament to launch the Article 7 process and put pressure on Hungary to mend its ways, but it’s important to keep Fidesz in the EPP and avoid boosting the chances of a united nationalist front ahead of the 2019 election.”

The question on everyone’s minds is whether Article Seven will launch by next year’s EP election,

and if so, what negative effects could stem from the report’s acceptance. Zoltán Gálik, a political expert from Corvinus University, said he believes it’s going to be a long process which will again involve the European Council, The European Commission and the Parliament. Yesterday’s decision merely opened the door to an investigation by the General Affairs Council into Hungary’s suspected infringements. After that decision, it will be a long time before Hungary’s voting rights in the EU are suspended.  Firstly, a four-fifths majority, then a unanimous vote is needed in the Council, and then the case will go back to the European Parliament where another two-thirds vote is needed to finish the procedures. Gálik doesn’t see how this process could possibly be completed in one year’s time. Next year’s EP election could lead to a new political composition in the Parliament – one which may not vote for the sanctions again.

Zoltán Gálik. Photo: Hirado.hu

Zoltán Gálik. Photo: Hirado.hu

Institutional barriers also emerge as it’s not clear whether the EU could launch two procedures at the same time, according to Gálik. The procedural rules are not clear; if the EU would seek a parallel investigation of both Poland and Hungary, there’s a chance that the two countries would back each other in the council.

We also asked what possible economic outcomes could be caused by the report. The real threat according to Gálik is the potential for the EU to stop giving Hungary funds if it breaches the rule of law. Discussions about the EU’s 2020-2027 budget have already started, and experts think this case could serve as a precedent and may affect the EU’s case-law pertaining to EU funds.

feature photo by Balázs Szecsődi/PM’s Press Office