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 Full text 
Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - Strasbourg Revised edition

The situation in Hungary (debate)

  Judith Sargentini, Rapporteur. – Mr President, let me start again and let me welcome Prime Minister Orbán, who I wanted to shake hands with, but he turned up late for the debate.

(Murmurs of disapproval)

Today, we are debating the state of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Hungary. Tomorrow, President Juncker will present his State of the Union, and I asked you before – I ask you now again, colleagues – today, what is the state of our Union? What shape are we in? Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union reads: ‘the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to a minority’. It continues: ‘these values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non—discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail’. By signing up to the Treaty on European Union, all the Member States made a commitment – an obligation to defend, respect and promote these values, regardless of political differences.

Are all the Member States fulfilling these commitments? I’m afraid not. The Hungarian Government has effectively silenced independent media. It has put academia on a leash, and future generations will not learn to appreciate critical thinking. It has replaced independent judges with those with a closer tie to the regime. It has rules on which churches are allowed to worship and which churches are not. It makes life miserable for NGOs that provide services to citizens in need, such as homeless people, migrants and refugees and marginalised groups like Roma. These are services that – to add insult to injury – lighten the work of local governments and are often financed through European Union funding. On top of that, individuals in the government have enriched themselves, their family members and their friends by means of public funding from European taxpayers’ money.

The report that is before you today comprehensively lists the actions that, together, represent a clear risk of a serious breach of the values of our Union. Unfortunately, nothing has improved since this report was voted on in June. On the contrary, this summer, one of the last independent news channels changed ownership and, from one day to another, became the mouthpiece of the government. The propaganda tax on NGOs got through Parliament, and whether the Central European University can continue to function in Budapest is still a big question.

Since 2010, the European Parliament has been urging the Commission and the Member States to act. They did not do so. And it’s particularly disappointing that the Member States turned a blind eye to the structural erosion of the rule of law in a fellow Member State. It is not the Commission alone that is the so—called ‘guardian of the Treaties’. We are all the guardians of the Treaties.


We all have the task of protecting the rights of European citizens to live today in a society, as Article 2 reads, ‘in which pluralism, non—discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail’. It is therefore our duty to act, under the very same Treaty that Hungary decided to ratify. The Civil Liberties Committee, after consulting four committees of this House, concluded that an Article 7.1 procedure is inevitable. I do not think lightly about triggering that Article, but if this House fails to use this emergency brake, we fail to deliver to European citizens what was promised to them in the Treaty.

Colleagues, the time has come to make an important choice. Will you let a government violate the values upon which this Union was built without consequences, or will you ensure that the values of this Union are more than just words written on a piece of paper? Colleagues, I count on your support.


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