The European Parliament took unprecedented action against Hungary on Wednesday, voting to censure the country’s government for violating European Union values and spurring concerns about the health of its democracy.
The vote is a response to the actions of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has disparaged independent media, academics, the courts, minorities and refugees.
The 448-197 vote opens the door to sanctions against Hungary and a potential loss of Orban’s EU voting rights for Orban. This marks the first time the European Parliament has taken that step, though Poland faced similar action from the European Commission last year.
“We stand up for the rights of all Europeans, including Hungarian citizens and we defend our European values,” said Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green parliament member who led the effort. “Now it is up to European leaders to take responsibility and stop watching from the sidelines as the rule of law is destroyed in Hungary. This is unacceptable for a Union that is built on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.”
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Orban, who won a third consecutive term in April, said the decision was revenge for Hungary taking a hard stance against refugee resettlement. He’s been an outspoken critic of Muslim refugees entering Hungary, saying they threaten the country’s cultural identity and sovereignty.
“We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,” Orban told a German newspaper. “We believe that a large number of Muslims inevitably leads to parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim society will never unite.”
Following the European Parliament’s vote, the decision now goes to the EU’s 28 member states. A unanimous vote is required, though Poland is expected to block it from passing.