Last month, the European Parliament took the unusual step of formally censuring a member state, voting by a wide margin to condemn Hungary under far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a “systemic threat to the rule of law” and trigger the Article 7 process of the Lisbon Treaty that could suspend its EU voting rights. The vote followed a report from the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs warning that the Hungarian government was abusing the rights of asylum-seekers, migrants and women and restricting freedom of the press, while it permitted corruption and suffered from a lack of democratic transparency. The majority in Brussels that voted to trigger the Article 7 proceedings included Orban’s colleagues in the center-right European People’s Party, an alliance of conservative parties.
But members of Britain’s Conservative Party, usually allied with the European People’s Party, voted against the measure. With Brexit clearly on their mind, they warned that the EU was encroaching on the sovereignty of member states, particularly within the realm of identity and questions of immigration.
Many observers have interpreted the European Parliament’s move against Hungary as an attempt to push back against Orban’s opposition to immigration and refugees, and a backsliding in the rule of law under Orban and his Fidesz party. It follows the triggering of Article 7 proceedings against Poland last year, also over concerns about threats to the rule of law there. Both are an important reminder that it is not only Europe’s center-left that faces an uncertain future amid resurgent populism.