A cross-party coalition of 120 Members of the European Parliament demand Hungary be stripped of its voting rights over the country’s democratic backsliding and Viktor Orbán’s “unacceptable” use of veto power.

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“We believe that this action is necessary to protect the values of the European Union,” the lawmakers say in a letter sent on Friday to the Parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola.

The text cites two main reasons to defend the unprecedented step: Hungary’s continued democratic backsliding, a recurring cause of concern in Brussels, and Orbán’s controversial role in the EU summit of December.

The Hungarian premier infuriated his fellow leaders when he made good on his threat to veto a proposed €50-billion fund to provide Ukraine with macro-financial assistance between 2024 and 2027. 

Approving the special fund, known as the Ukraine Facility, has become a matter of extreme urgency as Brussels has already run out of money to send to Kyiv, and Washington is stuck in a legislative impasse with no breakthrough in sight.

Leaders are set to reconvene again on 1 February to either greenlight the Facility or come up with an alternative plan. Ahead of the make-or-break date, Hungarian officials have put forward several requests in exchange for lifting the veto.

But while the Council remains hopeful a solution will be eventually found, patience in the Parliament is wearing thin.

In its joint letter, lawmakers urge the other EU institutions to forge ahead with Article 7, the “nuclear option” to address and correct violations of the bloc’s fundamental values.

Hungary has been under the first chapter of Article 7 since 2018. This stage identifies a “clear risk of a serious breach” of the core principles and forces the accused country to explain the situation in regular hearings. Thanks to the protection granted by the previous hard-right government in Poland, which was also put under Article 7, Budapest was able to remain in this first stage without facing any major repercussions.

Now, the group of 120 MEPs – out of a total of 705 – wants to trigger the second step of Article 7, where EU leaders, acting by unanimity, can determine the “existence of a serious and persistent” violation of fundamental values.

This decision requires a proposal submitted by either one-third of member states or by the European Commission, as well as the Parliament’s consent.

The lawmakers argue this move could take Hungary onto the third phase of Article 7, where the Council can vote to suspend “certain” rights enjoyed by the accused country, including voting rights to pass legislation and agree on common positions.

Crucially, the vote in the Council only requires a qualified majority. However, steps 2 and 3 have never been activated due to the radical nature of the suspension.

By taking Article 7 to the next level, “the European Union would be sending a clear message to Hungary that its actions are unacceptable,” the MEPs say.

“It would also be sending a message to all Member States that the European Union will not tolerate any backsliding on the Rule of Law or disrupting the principle of sincere cooperation, as enshrined in the Treaties.”

This “is the only way to protect the value of the European Union and ensure the functioning of the decision-making processes,” they add.

The letter was initiated on Tuesday by Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish MEP who sits with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest formation in the hemicycle. The deadline for collecting signatures closed on Friday at 15.00 CET, resulting in 120 lawmakers attaching their names.

The final list of endorsements features representatives from the main four groups: the EPP, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), the liberals from Renew Europe, and the Greens, as well as a handful from The Left.

“The success of the letter demonstrates a clear willingness in the Parliament to launch Article 7.2, but above all, it highlights the urgency of addressing Viktor Orbán’s actions,” Sarvamaa said in an emailed statement. “Next, it would be crucial to measure the final overall support for the petition’s idea in plenary as soon as possible.”

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The Parliament is working on a non-binding resolution focused on Hungary that will be voted upon during next week’s plenary session. Sarvamaa believes it is “very possible” that the idea of triggering the next steps of Article 7 will be “included in some form.” The baton will then be passed to President Metsola, he added.

“This level of support for launching a specific procedure has rarely, if ever, been seen within Parliament,” the Finnish politician said.

Still, the call from the hemicycle is symbolic and exposes one key shortcoming in the shared mission: activating the second phase of Article 7 cannot come from the Parliament itself, meaning lawmakers can do nothing but pile political pressure on the Commission and member states. 

Following the electoral victory of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Hungary has been deprived of the Polish backing it relied on for the last eight years. This has left Orbán more politically isolated than ever, as the December summit laid bare. But leaders like Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Slovakia’s Robert Fico are unlikely to back a move as radical as the suspension of voting rights, which would effectively turn Hungary into a powerless, second-class member state.

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