Commentary. The European Parliament, in a historic and emotional vote, invoked Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Hungary on Wednesday, confronting Viktor Orban for violating the values of the Union.

The EU sends a strong message against fear

It was a historic and heartening vote, by which the European Parliament has formally asked the Council to activate the procedure set out in Article 7 of the Treaty for gross violation of the fundamental principles of the Union by Orbán’s Hungary.

Europe cannot tolerate that some within its borders would run roughshod over its fundamental principles. The result of the vote was not at all a foregone conclusion, given that a two-thirds majority was needed. With this majority, the European Parliament has now defended the credibility and dignity of the Union against the siege being laid by the “sovereignist International” against the foundations of the European project, trying to undermine the integrity of these fundamental principles by manipulating the levers of fear.

It is the first time that this procedure has been started at the initiative of the European Parliament. Just as during the vote on the reform of the Dublin Treaty, the Parliament is proving that it is fully aware of the role which it is called to play as the direct organ of representation for European citizens, in a very delicate moment.

We have sent a strong signal to Orbán, and, together with him, to all those who believe they can stay in the Union and only take advantage of its benefits while violating its principles, starting with that of solidarity.

From this point of view, the case of Hungary is emblematic. In the last seven years, the country has received €4.5 billion in European funds while contributing just €990 million, and yet it has been among the most strenuous opponents to sharing responsibilities for the reception of migrants, and has refused to relocate even one refugee out of the relocations promised to Italy and Greece.

Orbán’s attitude is hypocritical: on one hand, he attacks the Union with campaigns such as “Stop Brussels,” but on the other hand, he neglects to tell the Hungarians that EU funds were the reason why he has been able to do a great part of the investments that have revived the country’s economy. The same hypocrisy marked his speech in Strasbourg, where he painted himself as the defender of the Hungarian people against European interference. This is the opposite of the truth.

The Parliament’s vote was not a vote against the Hungarian people, but a vote for the protection of their fundamental rights, and those of all the citizens of each Member State. After all, what we voted on was a long and detailed report, compiled by MEP Sargentini from the Greens, which lists the many measures taken by the Orbán government which, by undermining judicial independence, media freedom and minority rights, are in breach of the fundamental principles enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty: equality, pluralism and the rule of law.

Some are claiming Orbán’s legitimacy as election winner should trump these violations, but that is an unacceptable argument.

Whoever gets a majority at the polls is not above the laws, the Constitutions and the treaties.

Quite the opposite: they have a dual responsibility to respect them all.

This principle has been part of our juridical cultures since the French Revolution. It cannot be put under question, and the European Parliament has shown this clearly.

Elly Schlein is an Italian member of European Parliament from the Possibile party.

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