EP Votes to Step Up Article 7 Proceedings Against Hungary

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With an overwhelming majority of 446-178, the European Parliament passed a resolution Thursday to continue Article 7 proceedings against Hungary and Poland. The resolution declared that “the situation in both Poland and Hungary has deteriorated since the triggering of Article 7(1)”.

The vote, which included 41 abstentions, came after a debate at a plenary session in Strasbourg Wednesday where MEPs urged concrete actions be taken to address what they consider the countries’ violations of rule of law and judicial independence regulations. 

The debate produced a draft proposal signed by five parliamentary groups including the European People's Party (EPP), of which Fidesz is a member. 

“The failure by the Council to make effective use of Article 7 continues to undermine the integrity of common European values, mutual trust and the credibility of the European Union as a whole,” the resolution reads. 

The EP recommended tying EU development funds to rule of law criteria, and asked the European Council to take action including holding regular hearings, developing concrete recommendations to the governments of the two countries and setting deadlines for the implementation of those measures. 

“The European Commission is observing with concern the measures taken by the Hungarian government to suppress the independence of the judicial system and to reduce media and academic freedom, which justifies the continuation of procedures under Article 7 of the EU treaty,” said Vera Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency.

At the debate on Wednesday, Fidesz MEP Lívia Járóka defended the state of the rule of law in Hungary, saying, "I sincerely regret that the debate on Hungary has become a permanent point on the parliament's agenda, since it's not about actual facts but about a political witch-hunt."

Momentum MEP Katalin Cseh addressed Fidesz MEP Balázs Hidvéghi on Hungary's blocking of a European Council proposal which would tie EU funds to rule of law criteria, saying, "Don't you think that amounts to an admission of guilt?"

Weber: we don't need lectures from Orbán

European People's Party caucus leader Manfred Weber told EuroNews on Tuesday that those wishing to remain members of the party family are expected to respect its values.

"My party achieved over 40% in the last elections, so we don't need lectures on politics or elections," Weber said. "Our direction and values are clear."

Weber was responding to comments made by Viktor Orbán during an international press conference last Thursday, where the prime minister said that the EPP must change course and find its "true conservative values" for Fidesz to remain a member. Orbán criticized the party group, from which Fidesz was suspended last March, as going in a "liberal, socialist, centrist direction". 

Speaking on the sidelines of an EP plenary session in Strasbourg, Weber said the EPP would “carefully watch the developments [in Hungary] in the coming days to see if there are any positive changes”.

The verbal sparring between Orbán and the EPP was elevated on Wednesday when Fidesz politician Katalin Novák made a post to her Facebook page saying, "We don't need a lesson from Manfred Weber on democracy. In Hungary, we don't lecture somebody for having an opinion. Has this become a practice in the EPP?"

Following the EP's decisive vote to continue Article 7 proceedings on Thursday, Novák told atv.hu that the vote had provided "a strong argument in favor of looking for new allies...Those in the EPP that voted against us once again proved that our alliance is worth nothing to them." 

The rhetorical escalation between Fidesz and the EPP in recent days has made it increasingly clear that Fidesz is seeking to join a new parliamentary group or even form one of its own. Last week, Orbán met in Warsaw with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of Poland’s governing party Law and Justice (PiS), the most powerful party in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Additionally, Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Fidesz was holding talks with PiS and Matteo Salvini's Liga about the formation of a new caucus in the EP. 

However, the Polish chairman of the ECR contradicted the Italian reports, telling EuroNews on Tuesday that the formation of a new caucus was out of the question and that the ECR would not disband. He added that while the ECR's political views differ from those of Fidesz and Liga, this would not preclude cooperation with the parties.

Fidesz: Soros network behind segregated Roma schoolchildren in Gyöngyöspata 

At a press conference on Wednesday, Fidesz's deputy caucus leader László Böröcz asserted that the "Soros network" was responsible for a lawsuit filed on behalf of Roma children that were physically segregated in a public school in Gyöngyöspata.

"There can be no doubt that the political and financial manipulation of the Soros network is behind the Gyöngyöspata Roma," Böröcz said. "They are capable of turning the life of a town completely upside down and inciting terrible tensions for money and power."

Böröcz accused the Chance For Children Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group focusing on disadvantaged, primarily Roma children, of blackmailing the government for money which the organization then pockets.

The press conference came several days after the Roma Minority Self-Government of the Town of Gyöngyöspata (RNÖ) called for a "calm and responsible attitude" after Prime Minister Orbán questioned the fairness of providing financial compensation for the Roma children of Gyöngyöspata who had been segregated in public schools.

Speaking at an international press conference last Thursday, Orbán said, “If I lived [in Gyöngyöspata], I would wonder why the members of an ethnic group living with me in one community, in one village, receive a large sum of money without doing any kind of work while I am slaving away all day.” 

During the press conference, Orbán also raised questions on what constitutes segregation.

In a press release, the Gyöngyöspata Roma Self-Government wrote that "the making of a person's way in life begins [at] a desk, one providing an endless number of opportunities yet taken from these children. This is the very damage that, as ruled by the court, has to be compensated..."

Between 2004-2017, Roma students were segregated in a public school in the Heves county town, resulting in a court awarding HUF 99 million in damages to the affected students to be paid by the state. (The money is not payable to the Chance For Children Foundation, as Böröcz asserted.) 

In a statement, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union called Orbán's comments "unacceptable and dangerous", while the mayor of Budapest's Eighth District, András Pikó, criticized Orbán for questioning the court's decision to compensate the victims for "psychological damages and later material damages arising from their loss of chances."

"Since Viktor Orbán indicated that this is about Roma families, his statements are liable to incite anti-Roma resentment," Pikó wrote.

Government cabinet conducted 400 opinion surveys in less than three years

The Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister ordered some 400 public opinion surveys in a two-and-a-half year period, including surveys to determine whether George Soros could be used as an effective tool in a negative campaign, 24.hu reports. 

Between its formation in November 2015 and national elections in April 2018, the Cabinet Office commissioned a survey every 2-3 days on average. Most of these surveys, according to a document acquired by 24.hu, were conducted "for the establishment of government communication strategy". 

In the final two months of 2015, directly following the European refugee crisis that reached a peak that September, 50 such public opinion surveys were commissioned. 

Many of these surveys reportedly concerned American-Hungarian financier George Soros. According to sources from an article published in a Swiss newspaper and later published in English by BuzzFeed News, the government commissioned telephone surveys to determine whether a negative campaign against Soros could be used to rally voters for the upcoming election in 2018. 

The Cabinet Office was compelled by a court to provide information on these surveys  after Democratic Coalition politician Gergely Arató filed legal proceedings against it for refusing to provide data that would support the government's "Stop Soros" campaign. Initially, the government insisted such surveys did not exist, arguing there was no need for them because "Soros's plans are obvious". In recent weeks, however, the Office says that it is unable to find whether Soros-related surveys were conducted because of the great volume of surveys in their records.

Former 7th District mayor sentenced to one year in prison

A first instance court sentenced György Hunvald, a former Socialist MP and mayor of Erzsébetváros from 2002-2010, to one year in prison and more than HUF 27 million in fines for misappropriation of district funds. Hunvald has been released on time served in pre-trial detention.

Hunvald was convicted of entering the district into four contracts with companies owned by his friends wherein no meaningful work was completed. In the court opinion, the judge wrote that there had been no intention to complete the work laid out in the contracts, and that documents certifying the completion of the projects had been fictitious. 

Hunvald has maintained his innocence, saying he was merely a witness to the fraud and had not actively participated. 

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