European Union sanction threat 'no danger' to Hungary: PM Orban

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a debate concerning Hungary's situation as part of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg eastern France

But the 197 votes cast against parliament's first bid to launch the punitive process of the EU treaty's Article 7 highlighted the substantial minority of European opinion who see Orban as a crusader for the rights of nation states and ethnic majorities against rules of civic behavior agreed in Brussels.

The vote was based on a report that voiced concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, religious freedom, and the rights of minorities and refugees.

When asked for comment, a Hungarian government representative cited Palkovics' interview from June in which he had said they are "currently examining whether actual training is being performed by the CEU in the United States with the involvement of education experts". Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (L) arrives for an EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on May 17, 2018.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the vote the "petty revenge of proimmigration politicians" and said Hungary would fight it. Possible sanctions against the EU country concerned are not clearly defined in the EU treaties, but might include suspending voting rights in the Council and the European Council.

This marks the first time in EU history that the European Parliament has initiated and approved such a motion, which now passes to the leaders of the EU's 28-member states for approval. But it was still unclear whether the 751-strong would be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the censure motion, which accuses of breaching core European Union values.

After the vote, MEPs welcomed the adoption of the report and Sargentini with a standing ovation.

"Hungary shall continue to defend its borders, stop illegal immigration and defend its rights - against you, too, if necessary", he said, drawing applause from the eurosceptic, far-right lawmakers in the assembly. Recently, the European parliament announced plans to sanction Hungary because it poses a "systematic threat" to democracy.

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Critics say Hungary's electoral system favors the governing parties; media freedoms and judicial independence are dwindling; corruption and the enrichment of Orban allies with European Union and state funds are on the rise; asylum seekers and refugees are mistreated; and there are efforts to limit the activities of nongovernmental organizations. But a party spokesman said the group was divided about 50-50.

She had urged colleagues not to let Hungary off the hook, declaring that Orban's eight-year rule "violates the values on which this union was built".

It added: "Each EU Member State has a sovereign right to carry out the internal reforms that it considers appropriate".

"We believe that there can be no compromises on the rule of law and democracy", Kurz told ORF television.

The partnership has created increasing uneasiness as leaders who portray themselves as defenders of liberal European values, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, have found themselves covering for Orban as he cracks down on civil society and the free press.

Anti-Islam Dutch populist Geert Wilders tweeted: "Hungary is the example for all European Union countries and Orban is a hero and deserves the Nobel Prize".

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