EU sanctions against Hungary?

The EU Parliament has voted by the required two-thirds majority in favour of opening a punishment procedure against Hungary for breaching the EU's core principles. Some commentators see this as blatant meddling in the country's domestic affairs. For others, however, Hungary is the EU's biggest problem right now.

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The Spectator (GB) /

Legitimate desire for national sovereignty

Brussels' interference in the policies of a democratically elected state government is intolerable, The Spectator argues:

“In one breath, EU apologists denounce Orban for behaving in an anti-democratic way; in the next they whoop as an external body, the EU, threatens to punish Hungary if it doesn't stop doing the things it was democratically elected to do. National sovereignty, the right of people to determine the destiny of their nation, is one of the great causes of our time. It animated the vote for Brexit, it fuels populist parties elsewhere in Europe, and it is a great concern for many Hungarians. They will look at the EU's bully-boy tactics and recognise them for what they are: an attempt to dilute the Hungarian people's will.” (UA) /

Brussels behaving like Moscow once did

Brussels' action against recalcitrant member states lacks wisdom, argues:

“The EU is exposing its weakness in its conflicts with Hungary and Poland, coming across as a paper tiger that is unable to influence the situation in any way. Brussels has discredited itself in the eyes of the member states with its distrust vis-à-vis the national governments and the desire to impose its own will on them. ... Driven by ideology and under pressure due to the migration crisis, the EU leadership is trying to tar all the member countries with the same brush, ignoring their individual interests. For Budapest and Warsaw, which have first-hand experience of the socialist development model, there is little difference between Brussels' dictatorship and that of Moscow during the years of the Cold War.”

15min (LT) /

Europe's biggest Trojan horse

Hungary is now the biggest problem facing the EU, 15min comments:

“The biggest Trojan horse in the EU is currently Hungary. Under Orbán's leadership it is marching towards autocracy and shutting down opposition media that question the power of the formerly liberal and now nationalist politician. ... And its anti-European stance is actively supported by Warsaw, which has also come in for major criticism from the EU for its undemocratic reforms. On the other hand, at least Poland remains the most pro-American country in Eastern Europe, and continually reaffirms its role in Nato. And it spends the required two percent of GDP on defence, while stressing the need for an ongoing presence of US soldiers in Poland.”

The Malta Independent (MT) /

EU a toothless tiger

At the end of the day, the threats levelled by the EU institutions at countries like Hungary are nothing but hot air, The Malta Independent comments:

“Orban, and Poland's government, are thus free to continue going their own way, despite grumbles and threats by the EU elite. Their voting rights will not be suspended and this is the clue as to why other countries will be tempted to disregard threats of EU sanctions and go their own way. The next to be tempted will be Italy, with a Eurosceptic government. And at this very moment when the UK is leaving the Union because the EU is too overbearing and rides roughshod over the member states, the other member states are finding out that the emperor has no clothes, and the EU no teeth.”

Le Soir (BE) /

The EU's hands are tied

The rule of law proceedings against Hungary will come to nothing, Le Soir comments bitterly:

“What will Europe do now? Impose a huge fine? That requires a unanimous vote by the member states, and Poland won't vote against Hungary or vice versa. Send the Poles and Hungarians back behind the Iron Curtain? ... Things do not look good. Particularly as the reaction of the Hungarian population, who re-elected their Prime Minister Orbán without batting an eyelid, is simple: here at home we can do what we want! We joined Europe to get money, not lessons.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

Orbàn forcing formation of democratic front

It's entirely possible that in the end the Hungarian prime minister will help the EU to become more united, Kathimerini believes:

“His extremist policies and his unequivocal rejection of the principles of liberal democracy obliged a broad majority of parties in the European Parliament to take a clear stand in defence of the Union. ... This has forced parties and politicians who might have some sympathy for at least some of Orbán's policies to unite against him. However dangerous this decision may prove, it is just as important that the European Parliament, with its elected members, should show that it will not allow the undermining of principles which form the basis for the prosperity of citizens and for cooperation among EU member states.”

hvg (HU) /

Not everyone feels betrayed by the EU

Journalist Árpád Tóta W. distances himself from his countrymen who feel the EU Parliament has treated them poorly:

“For weeks now we've been hearing from every corner that Hungary and its inhabitants have been humiliated and given a trashing. So I want to make it clear right from the start: count me out. Because I haven't closed down any papers or threatened any NGOs, I haven't sent any far-right skinheads [to prevent the opposition from applying for a referendum], and I haven't hindered any party's election campaign. What's more, I haven't stolen or taught my family to steal. Orbán's striped pyjama is not my shirt, and the patchwork quilt he takes with him on his trips is also not my trousers. This indictment is not about me.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

When push comes to shove Orbán will back down

Budapest won't let it come to a break with the EU, journalist Dmitro Tuchanskii writes in Ukrayinska Pravda:

“On the eve of the last parliamentary elections in Hungary Viktor Orbán more or less had to fabricate enemies in order to emerge victorious from a struggle in which he was more or less unchallenged. Today there's no need for that, because the immigrants and their 'patrons' in Brussels and Strasbourg are perfect in the role. ... Orbán's no stranger to the image of the 'big divider' of the European Union. But in fact he is loyal to the EU and will certainly back down if things really come to a head. At least that's always been the case in the past.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

Hungary was abandoned to its fate

Europe's left has ignored Hungary's illiberal trend, journalist and former MEP Luciana Castellina observes in Il Manifesto:

“How can it be that we stood by and did nothing over the last decades as Hungary and the Visegrád zone in general turned in this direction? Have we forgotten how committed we were during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956? A hope that was drowned in blood but showed the wealth of energy and democratic-socialist traditions of this country. These are traditions that have died without we leftists in the West having attempted to start a dialogue with their defenders in Hungary. Could it be that since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been no more political ties, no more joint initiatives, no more friendships?”

To Vima (GR) /

A strong message from the parliament

The EU Parliament's vote could foil the plans of other populist politicians in Europe, To Vima Online observes:

“The decision to trigger a sanctions procedure against a member state for flouting the EU's core principles has a special symbolic significance in view of the upcoming European elections and the open conflict with political force aiming to undermine Europe's integration process. Hungary is condemned for corruption and because Orbán's government is undermining the independence of the judiciary, press freedom and academic freedom. The EU Parliament's decision sends a strong message to other governments and politicians who are trying to take control of the judiciary and media.”

Sme (SK) /

EU reining in Hungarian PM

At last the EU Parliament is setting limits for Orbán, Sme comments:

“Over the last few days Orbán's propaganda empire has been hammering into the Hungarian voters' minds that an ungrateful Europe will slap the country that is protecting its values and borders from foreign hordes in the face. ... There was talk of punishment for Orbán's uncompromising stance on refugees. The sad status report only confirms what has long been clear. ... The MEP have rejected Orbán's mutation of democracy which is adjusted to the needs of an autocrat. A mutation that prevents any true form of democracy.”

PestiSrácok (HU) /

Orbán will have the last laugh

This is not a genuine defeat for Orbán, the national conservative website PestiSrácok believes:

“The EPP will fail and collapse. It will expel Orbán's Fidesz party and a number of other parties will also leave. ... Fidesz is joining the group of parties that wants a Europe of nations and will do well in next spring's elections. Macron and his mates will strike a deal with the pro-migrant groups within the EPP and form a new majority in the new European Parliament. They will continue to use threats and violence to force Central Europe to take in immigrants. The bloc will split in two, at the very least a few states will leave it.”

La Tribune de Genève (CH) /

EPP facing split

The vote could lead to shifts within the European party blocs, La Tribune de Genève predicts:

“The EPP currently unites very opposite forces, from Merkel's CDU through to Orbán's Fidesz. On Wednesday more than half of the EPP chose to impose sanctions on Orbán. So the fault line runs right through the middle of the group, and it's entirely possible that the EPP as we know it won't survive the repercussions of this vote. Viktor Orbán has as good as left the formation and could soon join the nationalists' camp. How many will follow him? And what will the new balance of power in the European Parliament look like? The time of the grand clarification has begun.”