The authoritarian Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán has been declared unfit to hold the bloc’s rotating presidency in 2024, due to fear over its systemic corruption and willingness to flout the rules.
MEPs voted 442 to 144 in favour a the motion that questions “how Hungary will be able to fulfill this task in 2024 credibly, given its non-compliance with EU law”.
The resolution had the support of the European Parliament’s three main parties, the centre-right EPP, Socialist and Democrats, and liberal Renew Europe, as well as the Greens and Left groups.
Earlier this week, Germany’s Europe Minister Anna Lührmann said she had “doubts” on whether Budapest’s ability to comport itself appropriately in the role given its ambiguous stance over Russia’s war on Ukraine and the myriad claims that the Orban regime has sought to undermine democratic norms and a free press.
The vote is not legally binding, however. A decision to strip Hungary, or any other country of the six-month presidency, would require the unanimous agreement of the EU’s 27 governments.
Hungary is scheduled to take over the six-month presidency in the second half of 2024, after stints by Spain and Belgium. The country holding the presidency is able to set the agenda, host meetings, steer negotiations, draft compromise texts and organise votes.
Senior EU officials have indicated, however, that there is little interest in Brussels to block Hungary’s turn.
“When a country enters into the role of the presidency, they assume this role, as an honest broker, they become neutral,” Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager told EURACTIV, adding that “if that is the approach of the Hungarians, then you have a normal presidency.”
The MEP’s vote underlines, however , that Orban’s hard-right Fidesz government has become a giant thorn in the Europe’s side.
By presiding over rampant graft and repressing the independence of Hungary’s media and the judiciary, Orban has already provoked the EU into freezing several billion euros of Covid recovery funds.
The European Commission is also suing Hungary over a recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation – a copy of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law – which makes it illegal to for gays to be represented in a positive way in school educational materials or TV programmes for children.
Hungary is also derailing the Continent’s security plans by vetoing Sweden’s membership of Nato.
On 23 May, at the Qatar Economic Forum, Orban said relations between Hungary and Sweden had to improve before the Nordic state’s membership of the defence alliance would be accepted by Budapest.
Sweden and its neighbour Finland asked to join the Nato military alliance last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But Sweden’s application has been held up by Turkey and Hungary, with Budapest citing grievances over Swedish criticism of Orban’s record on democracy and the rule of law.
The Orban regime is also expected to lead resistance to putting Ukraine on the path to Nato membership, an issue that will be high on the agenda at the alliance’s 11 July summit.
Orban will probably have been buoyed at the news of Turkish hardman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s re-election in Turkey. Both leaders have, for different reasons, sought to retain good relations with Moscow, since its invasion of Ukraine.
Had Erdogan lost on 28 May, Orban, and Hungary, one of the EU’s smaller member states, would have been left very exposed.
As it is, Orban, looks set to continue defying the powers in Brussels.