Hungary is no longer a “full democracy” and the EU must do everything it can to bring it back in line with European values, the European Parliament said on Thursday.
MEPs voted 433 in favour, 123 against, to now describe Hungary – ruled by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” in “serious violation” of the democratic EU standards.
The vote was largely symbolic and does not change the course of EU decision-making, which requires unanimity from all 27 member states – including Hungary – to pass key issues, such as sanctions against Russia.
With their vote, EU legislators roundly passed a parliamentary report stating that Hungary has been falling back on democratic and fundamental rights since 2018 due to the “deliberate and systematic efforts of the Hungarian government”.
The report said the lack of action by EU institutions, including the commission charged with “guarding” EU treaties setting democratic standards, has exacerbated the decline.
While EU countries are treading cautiously with Hungary over the need to gain assent to important decisions, diplomats are personally frustrated with Orban’s cozy relationship with the Kremlin and his blocking of further sanctions against Moscow.
The commission has also been careful to avoid open criticism, but the unease about Hungary’s departure from the rule of law, in particular by failing to curb corruption, is becoming increasingly apparent.
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in her State of the European Union address to the European Parliament on Wednesday that the EU “must fight for our democracies”.
She said her EU executive would work to protect member states “from the external threats they face, and from the vices that affect them from within”, notably denouncing corruption, though she does not directly mention Hungary.
She promised legislative action to step up the fight against corruption, including “illegal enrichment, human trafficking and abuse of power”.
Her EU Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders, told MEPs in a debate on rule of law violations in Hungary that the committee “shares a host of concerns expressed by the European Parliament” regarding Budapest.
In 2018, the European Parliament launched proceedings against Hungary’s risk to European democratic values.
In theory, the mechanism could lead to Hungary losing its voting rights in the Council of the EU, where member states make decisions that affect the bloc.