Home Brussels Belgian EU presidency urges governments to move toward muzzling Hungary 

Belgian EU presidency urges governments to move toward muzzling Hungary 

by editor

Belgium, current holder of the rotating Council of the EU presidency, is taking the extraordinary step of urging EU governments to consider moving ahead with the procedure to deprive Hungary — which takes over the presidency next month — of voting rights.

“We have a Europe that is making difficult headway, with unfortunately some states — one state in particular — increasingly adopting a transactional, blocking and veto attitude,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib told POLITICO in an interview.

She advocated advancing the EU’s Article 7 censure procedure against Budapest — an extreme move that can result in a country having its voting rights suspended.

“I think we need to have the courage to make decisions: go right to the end of Article 7, activate Article 7 right to the end, which provides for the end of the right of veto,” she said. 

The European Parliament triggered the first phase of the Article 7 procedure against Hungary in 2018, but the process has stalled. The next step of that procedure, used when a country is considered at risk of breaching the bloc’s core values, is often called the “nuclear option” because it provides for the most serious political sanctions the bloc can impose on a member country — the suspension of the right to vote on EU decisions.

Hungary is set to take over the presidency of the Council of the EU in July, giving Budapest more power to set the EU agenda and priorities for six months, even as Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán continues to obstruct EU decision-making on important matters from military aid to Ukraine, to sanctions against Russia, to taking the next step to welcome Kyiv into the bloc. 

“This is a moment of truth,” Lahbib said. “Either we face up to our responsibilities, which requires political courage and willpower. Or we put in place mechanisms that don’t work. And so we have to choose.”

“If we go all the way with this mechanism, it must work. If it doesn’t work, we have to reform it. That’s the future of the European Union,” Lahbib said.

Frustrated over Budapest’s blocking moves, other European countries are considering creative ways to get around Budapest on important EU decisions, such as targeting Russian exports without requiring unanimity. Some EU leaders are also suggesting giving Hungary a weak portfolio in the next European Commission, despite Budapest’s wish to keep the prestigious enlargement job.

Since coming into power two decades ago, Orbán’s government has given the ruling Fidesz party more influence into the judiciary and state media system. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Budapest has continuously slowed down aid to Ukraine or refused to help altogether. 

The European Parliament and EU heavyweight Germany have questioned Budapest’s ability to helm the Council of the EU starting July 1 — but Lahbib said Belgium insisted that Hungary should take its scheduled term.

“It’s also a reminder that being a member of the European Union means respecting values, having rights, having access to funds, being part of the single market, respecting the values of freedom, freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary,” she said. 

“That is why Hungary is now under the Article 7 procedure and increasingly isolated,” she added.

After Brussels dropped a similar case against Poland last month, Hungary is the only EU country facing this type of sanction.

A spokesperson for Hungary’s Permanent Representation to the EU said: “Hungary’s main concern now is to keep the EU out of the war in our neighbourhood. If war reaches the EU, then Article 7 will be the least of our problems.”

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