Sharp debates about Hungary and the EU

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M - Members of the European Parliament traded verbal blows with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a debate Tuesday over democracy and the rule of law in his country, CNN reports.

With 448 votes in favor, 197 against and 48 abstentions, MEPs adopted the report prepared by Ecologist MEP Judith Sargentini, this being the first time that the EU co-legislator calls for the activation of the so-called Article 7 (Treaty of Lisbon) of a Member State of the European Union.

Mitsotakis's party, New Democracy, is in the same conservative bloc in the European Parliament as Orban's, the European People's Party (EPP).

With Britain about to leave the bloc altogether in March and Europeans voting in European Parliament elections in May, the row over Hungary - and Poland, which faces a similar sanctions procedure launched by the executive European Commission in 2017 - highlights tensions between nationalist and federalist camps.

It is the first time in EU history that the European Parliament had initiated and approved such a motion, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass and was approved by 69.4 per cent of the lawmakers.

"I constantly tried to explain to Orban that the radical rhetoric he's directing towards Europe helps neither him nor the European Union", said Juncker.

For years, Orban has successfully deflected much of the global condemnation about Hungary's electoral system, media freedoms, independence of the judiciary, mistreatment of asylum-seekers and refugees and limitations on the functioning of non-governmental organizations, but criticism has been growing even within the European People's Party, to which his Fidesz party belongs.

"Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration and Hungary will defend its rights, if needed even against you".

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Orban has said the mostly Muslim refugees pose an existential threat to Europe's Christian civilization.

Several European Union politicians expressed fear that the corruption, nepotism and illiberal politics they said characterised the Orban regime - including the mistreatment of asylum seekers - marked a "decisive moment" for the continent.

MEPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to launch a procedure that could lead to unprecedented political sanctions against Hungary, and deepen the continental divide between centrist pro-European parties and populist anti-migrant forces.

"The big issue is how the EPP will vote, particularly Mr. Weber", said Maria Joao Rodrigues, a leading Portuguese member of the Socialists and Democrats group, which supports the motion.

Kovacs also suggested that the alliance with Fidesz boosts the EPP's appeal to European voters.

A unanimous vote is required, though Poland is expected to block it from passing.

"There are no compromises on the rule of law", Kurz said.

The EPP is led by Manfred Weber, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who last week announced his bid to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission next year. The European Parliament voted to censure Orban's government for its repeated attacks on minorities, dissenters and journalists, and the independence of the judiciary.

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