Hungary’s government on Monday sought to discredit a European Parliament report critical of its democratic record ahead of a vote on censuring Budapest for breaching the EU’s core values.
Zoltán Kovács, spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s administration, branded the report, by the Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini and approved by Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, “a desperate attempt on behalf of leftwing politicians who are trying to set up a tribunal.”
“We have always maintained this is witch hunt,” Kovács told reporters in Brussels, speaking ahead of a debate in Parliament on Tuesday and a vote on Wednesday on Sargentini’s report. His government published a 109-page “information sheet” taking issue with the report, which Kovács said “contains not only factual errors but lies.”
Sargentini’s report highlights concerns about the independence of the judiciary, academic freedom, corruption, freedom of expression, and the rights of migrants in Hungary, among other issues.
Wednesday’s vote is over whether to trigger the EU’s Article 7 procedure against Budapest, which could theoretically result in the Hungarian government losing its right to vote on EU decisions. That final outcome is unlikely, as all other EU countries would have to endorse it. But a vote to launch the process would represent a stain on Hungary’s international reputation and increase pressure on the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) to expel Orbán’s Fidesz party from its ranks.
Fidesz supplies valuable votes for the EPP.
Kovács said Fidesz had no intention of leaving the EPP, despite liberal politicians in the pan-European grouping pushing for its ouster. He said former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had brought Fidesz into the EPP and it belonged there.
“Instead of leaving, which many would probably like to see, we would rather … demonstrate for the EPP that our stand, our perspective, is something that would help the EPP to remain the strongest political … group in the European Parliament,” Kovács said.
Orbán himself will speak in Tuesday’s debate in Strasbourg and will have seven minutes to argue his case. Kovács said the prime minister will be “frank and outspoken.”
Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP group in the Parliament who is running to be the next European Commission president, has defended keeping Fidesz inside the grouping. Fidesz supplies valuable votes for the EPP and Weber has set out a vision of the EPP as a broad church, including both liberals and conservatives.
But Weber told Monday’s edition of Germany’s Bild newspaper he expected Orbán to “move toward EU partners and show a readiness to compromise.” If that doesn’t happen, Weber said, the EPP would have to say “our values are not negotiable.”
EPP officials say they want to see concessions particularly on Orbán’s crackdowns on NGOs and the Central European University in Budapest.
But Kovács said the government could not backtrack on legislation: “If there are rules and you question us on the rule of law, is it possible that you soften the rules for some because they are NGOs but you stick to rules for non-NGOs?”