STRASBOURG — The EU cried a collective “basta!” but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán just kept piling on.
Facing a cascade of criticism in the European Parliament — including from leaders of his own political family — over the alleged erosion of democratic norms and values, Orbán responded on Tuesday with a fiery speech, in which he accused his detractors of hypocrisy and insisted that Budapest would not be brought to heel by Brussels.
Speaking to the Parliament plenary in Strasbourg in a debate on a resolution to initiate a process that could lead to political sanctions against Hungary — so-called Article 7 proceedings like the one Poland is facing over judicial changes that Brussels says violate the rule of law — Orbán showed no contrition and no willingness to back down.
“The report in front of you insults Hungary and insults the honor of the Hungarian nation,” Orbán declared, insisting that Hungary is being unfairly castigated for taking a more conservative view of Christian and family values.
He accused the authors’ of the Parliament resolution of being the political equivalent of spoiled rich kids who have inherited democracy rather than earning it — as he said Hungarians have. And Orbán, who has made a hard line on migration his signature issue, insisted that the actions of his government were taken at the behest of the voters who have freely elected it.
We have invented human rights, and not Christian rights, on this Continent — Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party group.
“Those who inherited democracy, who did not have to take personal risks in order to obtain liberty, they are the ones who want to condemn,” he said, adding: “You believe you know better than Hungarians themselves what they need. This report does not give due respect to Hungarians.”
Authors of the resolution, including Judith Sargentini, a Dutch MEP leading the process, allege “the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.” They cite a wide array of violations of EU democracy standards, including allegations that Orbán’s government has restricted the freedoms of expression, religion, and association, and undermined the functioning of the constitutional and electoral systems and the independence of the judiciary.
They accuse Orbán’s government of violating the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as religious and ethnic minorities and students. And Orbán’s critics also say he has trampled on freedom of the press by exerting government control over the media.
Notably, Manfred Weber, leader of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the Parliament, which includes Orbán’s Fidesz party, was blunt in his criticism of the Hungarian government.
“To have an atmosphere in a society where government critics, NGOs have a problem to continue work is not what we as EPP believe in,” Weber told the chamber.
“If we say generally that you have to be afraid about Muslims and generally attack a religion, then we do the job of the Jihadists who want to create a clash inside of our societies. Europe is the idea of freedom of religion and the separation of state and the churches,” Weber added. “We have invented human rights, and not Christian rights, on this Continent.”
A vote on the resolution is scheduled for Wednesday after Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech.
The EPP, the largest bloc in the Parliament, is also debating taking disciplinary action against Fidesz — perhaps by suspending or even expelling it. But, at a press conference after the debate, Orbán made clear he wanted to keep Fidesz in the EPP.
“Fidesz was invited by Kohl into EPP,” he said referring to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. “We will not heed a call to leave the EPP… It will be up to the other members of the EPP family.”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose party belongs to the EPP, said on Monday his MEPs will vote in favor of the Article 7 resolution against Hungary. Several other national groups inside the EPP have also indicated they will vote the same way.
In Tuesday’s debate, some MEPs spoke in defense of Orbán, including the U.K. Independence Party’s Nigel Farage.
“Thank God there is at least one European leader prepared to stand up for his principles, his nation, his culture and his people, in the face of such extreme bullying,” Farage said, branding the debate a “show trial.”
But Orbán appeared to accept that Wednesday’s vote was already lost.
“I know that you have already made up your minds,” Orbán told MEPs. “I know that a majority will approve the report and I know that my speech here today will not manage to change your opinion.”
Lili Bayer and Ryan Heath contributed reporting.
This article has been updated.