Hungary’s leader rejects criticism in European Union parliament debate

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The European Parliament on Wednesday voted to start punitive action against Hungary for flouting the rule of law after a motion was passed on Wednesday with a considerable majority.

Even some members of the European People's Party bloc - which Orban's Fidesz movement belongs to - voted against their ally in Budapest.

The motion passed with the required two-thirds majority of 448 MEPs backing the declaration that Hungary is at "clear risk of serious breach" of European Union core values, including judicial independence, academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The issue of decision for European conservatives is whether they like what Orban says about democracy and academic freedom and a free press, Ignatieff added.

Wednesday's vote also means that a formal warning will be sent to Hungary for violating the EU's values.

Other EU governments could halt any further action, however, and Poland has warned it would do so.

Zoltan Kovacs, spokesperson for the Hungarian government called the vote a "fraud".

Defending his country in a speech on Tuesday, Orban hit out at a report commissioned by the European Parliament that accused Hungary's government of corruption, undermining democracy, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression, and the rights of migrants, refugees and minorities - calling it "blackmail".

"Whatever your decision will be, Hungary will not accede to this blackmail", an angry Orban told the lawmakers, whom he alleged had already made up their mind to activate article seven of the European Union treaty and seek measures to restrict his government's voting rights.

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Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban, once a campaigner against Hungary's Soviet Communist overlords, has used his parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups in ways his opponents say breach European Union rules.

He also said Hungary would seek legal ways to challenge the ruling as abstaining votes were not counted, and this, he said, changed the outcome of the vote.

Orban, leader of the Fidesz party, won reelection in April 2018 by a landslide, gaining a 2/3 majority in the Hungarian parliament after voters backed his anti-immigration platform, and entering his third consecutive term in office.

"The Hungarian people deserve better", Sargentini said.

Orban has insisted that all of the criticism against his government is based on Hungary's tough anti-immigration policies, which include fences built in 2015 on Hungary's southern borders with Serbian and Croatia to divert the flow of migrants and very restrictive asylum rules. The group of leftists and greens in the assembly said "Orban's authoritarian moves must be curbed".

The European Parliament is discussing whether to activate the so-called Article 7 that could lead to sanctions against Hungary. The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, launched Article 7 proceedings against Poland previous year over its judicial reforms.

Dutch anti-Islam campaigner and MP Geert Wilders described the vote on Twitter as "a bloody shame".

"We are fighting for an EP, European Commission and EPP in which anti-migration politicians are in the majority", Szijjarto said.

Orban said his government had sent all the MEPs an 108-plus page rebuttal of Sargentini's "false" charges.

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