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Senior EU politician launches bid to remove Hungary’s voting rights

| 2024-01-09 3 min read

Senior EU politician launches bid to remove Hungary’s voting rights

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The European Parliament (EP) chief rule of law negotiator Petri Sarvamaa, MEP, published on Tuesday a petition letter calling to suspend Hungary’s voting rights on the European Council, to President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola.

Since regaining power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have clashed with the EU over domestic rule of law issues and his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago. Orban vetoed the EUR 50bn ‘Ukraine Facility’ funding package at the European Council last month.

Long road to removing EU member’s voting rights

The European Council defines the EU’s political direction as part of its executive with the European Commission. Sarvamaa’s petition could initiate a process that would eventually allow “Orban to be deprived of the right to vote in the Council”, and noted that “the procedure foreseen in Article 7(2) TEU has never been initiated”, the Finnish MEP wrote in the letter.

Also notable about the letter is that Sarvamaa is a member of the European People’s Party, the conservative grouping that Fidesz was a member of for 15 years, only to be suspended in 2019 and finally leave to join the non-Inscrits in 2021.

The Hungarian premier’s policy director and namesake Balazs Orban tweeted that Sarvaama’s “extreme ideas make him seem more radical than the fanatical far-left Daniel Freund. EPP’s shift to the left exposes how deeply tainted and flawed the centre-right has become,” he added.

Over the last 8 years Fidesz has relied on an alliance with the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) to mutually block actions against them in votes that require unanimity from the EU-27. However PiS was voted out of power last October. 

“This is a huge deal,” Hungary Constitutional law expert and Princeton Professor Kim Lane Scheppele said. “The answer to the EU’s problems with Orban hiding in plain sight. Under Art 7(2) TEU, unanimous member states can remove Hungary’s vote in the Council, among other things. Now that Poland’s fellow-traveler veto is gone, is the political will there?” she asked.

Nuclear option

The letter mentions Article 7(2), sometimes referred to as the EU’s nuclear option. Article 7(2) reads “the European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the EP, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2.”

The Commission and Council have no formal due to agree with the procedure, but with an EU election looming in summer, the timing means MEPs are wielding leverage.

If Metsola accepts the request, the vote would be almost certain to pass in the EP. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the European Council would then have to decide whether to proceed.

For von der Leyen, with her narrow majority, rejection would hit her support from MEPs’ for a second mandate in July, but could antagonise member states, whose support she also needs.

President of the European Council Charles Michel meanwhile will be anxious to train support of the EP, as he is currently eyeing a top EP job.

The Council’s required unanimity is not guaranteed. The recently returned to power Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico could take up on the role of Kremlin ally in the EU currently held by Orban, while Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni could also side with Orban.

Sarvamaa tweeted: “It’s now or never. The EU’s decision-making machinery is simply stuck because of Viktor Orban. The only way to make it work is to withhold Orban of his right to vote at the Council.

“At the same time, we show that no blackmail is allowed in the EU. Members have until Friday to co-sign the letter, after which it will be sent to President Metsola.  This is a “make or break moment for the EU”, according to Sarvamaa.

If the first step succeeds, the second one – under the Article 7(3) TEU – would be the suspension of Hungary’s membership rights, including Council voting rights. 

As well as being an MEP, Sarvamaa is the EPP’s Vice Chair for Budget and Structural Policies and Budgetary Control Committee coordinator. After signatures are collected, the letter will be formally sent to Metsola on Friday 12 January 2024.

MEP Petri Sarvamaa’s Letter to President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola.