“Hungary has been repeatedly criticised for its erosion of the Rule of Law, and especially after Hungary’s actions to disrupt the decision-making of the Member-States in the December EUCO, we believe that the time has come for the European Parliament to take action,” the letter read.
The European Council (EUCO) is the collegiate body that defines the overall political direction and priorities of the EU. In December, Orban blocked a review of the bloc’s budget that included granting Ukraine 50 billion euros ($55bn) in new financial aid through 2027.
The letter called for a process to be started that could result in “the suspension of specific membership rights of Hungary, including voting rights in the Council”.
“We believe that this action is necessary to protect the values of the European Union,” the letter added.
Last month’s EU summit capped another year of bitter feuds between the bloc and Budapest over the independence of Hungarian courts, corruption and freedom of minorities, non-governmental organisations and education.
“The letter demonstrates a clear willingness in the Parliament to launch Article 7.2 TEU,” the author of the letter, Finland’s member of European Parliament (MEP), Petri Sarvamaa, said, referring to the next step in the disciplinary steps for countries not respecting the rule of law.
“But above all, it highlights the urgency of addressing Viktor Orban’s actions,” said Sarvamaa, who is from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the most significant faction in the current European legislature.
But Balazs Hidveghi, a Hungarian MEP, dismissed the letter and called it another “attack” by Hungary’s critics.
“Our adversaries, who have been smearing Hungary with lies for years and are trying to make our life more difficult in Brussels … have launched another attack,” he said.
The European Parliament wants to adopt a resolution on Hungary next week as its main political factions are dissatisfied with the European Commission’s decision in December to unfreeze billions in EU financial support to Budapest.
The money had been suspended for years due to concerns that Orban undermined democratic checks and balances.
But the decision last month was part of a deal for Budapest to agree to funding for Kyiv, which Orban vetoed.
However, many MEPs argued that Budapest still needed to address the concerns of the rule of law.
Member states are expected to meet again on February 1 to try to approve the 50 billion euro ($54.7bn) package for Ukraine, which would be easier to do if Hungary could no longer vote on measures to help Kyiv.
While taking away Budapest’s votes was largely unrealistic due to its support from nationalist allies in Poland, its election in November last year, where the pro-EU Prime Minister Donald Tusk was elected, has pledged to make supporting Ukraine a key priority.