Posts Tagged ‘Hungary.’

Poland says it will block any EU sanctions against Hungary

September 13, 2018

Poland, the biggest former communist country in the European Union, said it will oppose any sanctions imposed by the bloc on fellow member Hungary, accused of floating EU rules on democracy.

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hold a joint news conference in Budapest, Hungary January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

“Every country has its sovereign right to make internal reforms it deems appropriate,” Poland’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“Actions aimed against member states serve only deepening divides in the EU, increasing citizens’ current lack of confidence to European institutions.”

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to sanction Hungary for neglecting norms on democracy, civil rights and corruption in a first bid to launch the punitive process of the EU treaty’s Article 7.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, once a campaigner against Hungary’s Soviet Communist overlords, has used his parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups.

He has also led opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others who want Europe to take in more Muslim refugees.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Nick Macfie




EU parliament votes to rebuke Hungary

September 12, 2018

Forint falls on risk of sanctions against Budapest over alleged breaches of EU law

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Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister © Reuters

Michael Peel in Brussels, Mehreen Khan in Strasbourg and Valerie Hopkins in Budapest

Hungary’s Viktor Orban suffered a stinging rebuke from his European political allies on Wednesday when the EU’s parliament voted for the first time to censure his country over possible breaches of bloc rules and values.

Almost 450 MEPs lined up against Budapest including many members of the rightwing European People’s party to which the Hungarian premier’s Fidesz is affiliated, deepening the rift in the EU over the alleged slide towards autocracy in some member states.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, also weighed in on Wednesday, warning against growing nationalism — and a deterioration in the rule of law that some see as an existential threat to the EU.

Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, said MEPs across the political spectrum had taken a “historic stand in defending the EU’s democratic values and the rights of its citizens”.

George Soros, the Open Society institute’s founder, has been a target of Mr Orban’s government as it has tightened control since his return to power in 2010.

MEPs voted by 448 to 197 to back a report to the parliament, written by a Dutch Green MEP, that accused Hungary of threatening the rule of law by hampering press and academic freedoms, cracking down on NGO funding and denying rights to minorities and migrants.

The ballot cleared the two-thirds majority needed to trigger further action against Hungary, meaning that it was supported by a significant number of European People’s party MEPs — the largest group in the parliament.

In a sign of the changing political climate, Manfred Weber, the German head of the EPP group, said before the vote that he would back action against Hungary. Mr Weber has previously been cordial towards Mr Orban, congratulating the Hungarian premier publicly in April for his landslide re-election win.

Mr Orban is facing a separate but related battled with some EPP members who want to expel him from the group.

Zsuzsanna Vegh, an associate researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said the parliament vote would not end “democratic backsliding” in Hungary — but it was a watershed moment because of the rift it opened within European conservative politics.

“However, he tries to frame it in practical terms, the loss of the vote and the fact that he lost the backing of EPP, allies with whom he has been negotiating and working and who have been protecting him for the last eight years, is a failure for the prime minister and his strategy,” Ms Vegh said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Juncker used his annual State of the Union address to warn that the commission would “resist any attack on the rule of law” and was “very concerned by developments in some of our member states”.

In a separate speech, Ms Merkel attacked nationalism and said European elections next May would turn on how Europe handled stark divisions in areas such as migration — opposition to which is a crucial plank of Mr Orban’s appeal. “It’s very clear — if Europe simply says that we’ll isolate ourselves, and we don’t deal with the things that happen in our region, then that’s going to end badly,” Ms Merkel said.

The European Parliament’s decision shoves Hungary into the same so-called “article 7” action launched in December by the commission against Poland, under which fellow EU states probe whether the accused countries risk breaching bloc rules and values. The process could theoretically end with punishments including suspension of Budapest’s EU voting rights — but that would only happen in the unlikely event the other 27 nations agreed.

EU European affairs ministers are due to hold another hearing next week in connection with the drawn-out article 7 complaint the commission launched against Poland in December. Hungary has already said it would block any possible sanctions — highlighting how states under scrutiny can neuter the process by covering for each other.

Juncker to lay out plan for stronger EU world role

September 12, 2018

“Donald Trump’s United States is an unpredictable foreign policy friend and a protectionist trade rival.”

© AFP/File | Aides insist Juncker’s flagship address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday will be no farewell swansong

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will promise moves to beef up European Union foreign policy Wednesday in his annual address to the bloc’s parliament.

Juncker’s State of the EU address to the Strasbourg body will be the last before May elections that will pit Europe’s rising populist forces against his centrist supporters — but aides insist it will not be his swansong.

Instead, he is expected to announce plans to recruit 10,000 EU border control officers and take a tough line on Europe’s priorities in Brexit negotiations with London.

He will also broach the topic of decreasing the use of the US dollar in energy contracts, diminishing Washington’s financial influence.

“In the final straight we are determined to follow the golden rule in politics. When you have a political mandate, you start strong and you finish strong,” EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in the run up to the speech.

According to a European diplomat, Juncker knows it is a “critical” moment to prepare Europe for a world in which President Donald Trump’s United States is an unpredictable foreign policy friend and a protectionist trade rival.

Despite the rising challenge of populist, nationalist parties in Europe — chafing at EU rules on immigration and the rule of law — Juncker wants Brussels to take a more influential role on the international stage.

– Belonging together –

The set-piece speech will be Juncker’s fourth such state of the union. He leaves office on October 31 next year after a term marked by crisis after crisis: a refugee influx, soaring debt and Britain’s divorce demand.

Populist, nationalist and eurosceptic forces have gained ground in many countries, and the European parliamentary elections in May could well bring in more of Juncker’s opponents to rock the boat just as he tries to consolidate what he sees as real successes in restoring forward momentum to the European project.

“The crisis we feel, is a crisis of fellow-feeling, of belonging together,” warned Philippe Lamberts, co-president of parliament’s Green group.

And Social Democrat leader Udo Bullman said, ahead of the speech: “We will insist on a clear answer to the crises. Business as usual is not an option.”

After Juncker lays out his proposals, including new measures to better divide responsibility for coping with new refugee and migrant influxes, parliament must turn these into legislation and then national governments must approve.

In total, the former Luxembourg prime minister is expected to lay out 18 propositions or initiatives. The speech was due to begin at 0700 GMT.



Hungary’s Viktor Orban accuses EU of ‘abuse of power’ — “We have a different picture about the nature of Christianity in Europe.”

September 12, 2018

The Hungarian premier has told EU lawmakers that Brussels’ actions against Budapest “violate the EU treaty.” Viktor Orban is facing pressure to correct measures that have undermined “fundamental values” of the EU.

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Hungary’s Orban defiant as EU lawmakers debate action

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday told the European Parliament that potential disciplinary measures against his country are a “moral decision” that amount to “abuse of power.”

Under pressure from the European Commission, Orban is facing a vote that could see Hungary lose its voting rights in the bloc for undercutting democracy and EU core values.

Read more: Could Hungary lose its EU voting rights?

Orban said:

  • “I stand here in front of you and I defend my country because, for Hungarians, liberty, democracy, independence and Europe are matters of honor.”
  • “What you are doing here is a slap in the face of the Union”
  • “We have defended Hungary, and we have defended Europe.”
  • “We have a different picture about the nature of Christianity in Europe and the role of nations and cultures in our country.”

‘Between nationalism and Europe’

Judith Sargentini, who launched the debate to sanction Hungary under Article 7 of the EU treaty, said Orban has orchestrated the “structural erosion of the rule of law.”

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the EU Commission, said “civil society is the very fabric of democratic society and is threatened by measures taken by the Hungarian government.”

Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EU parliament’s conservatives who has signaled his intention to head the EU Commission, said Hungary must decide “between nationalism and Europe.”

Nigel Farage, the former head of the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) who led the “No” campaign for the Brexit vote, defended Orban, saying “at least one EU politician is ready to stand up for his principles.” He urged him to “join the Brexit club.”

Other EU lawmakers made clear that possible disciplinary actions against Hungary are “not an attack on the people of Hungary.”

Losing support: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has long supported Orban’s hard-line stance on refugees, signaled his intention to vote against Hungary. “There are no compromises on the rule of law,” Kurz told ORF television. “Fundamental values have to be protected.”

Why is the EU putting pressure on Hungary? Under Orban, Hungary has witnessed what critics have called an authoritarian turn. The far-right premier has continuously targeted press freedoms, the judiciary’s independence, asylum seekers and non-governmental organizations.

What is Article 7? Article 7 of the EU Treaty allows for the suspension of certain rights of a member state if “there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values referred to in Article 2.” Those values comprise “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

Upcoming vote: The European Parliament will vote on Wednesday whether to recommend disciplinary measures against Hungary under Article 7.

ls/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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Hungary’s Orban vows to defy EU — “Hungary shall not bow to blackmail.”

September 12, 2018

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the European Parliament on Tuesday he would not bow to EU “blackmail” as lawmakers prepared to vote on whether to punish Budapest for eroding democracy.

Some momentum might have been building against Orban during the evening ahead of the Wednesday vote. But it was still unclear whether the 751-strong European Parliament would be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the censure motion, which accuses Hungary of breaching core EU values.

© Ludovic Marin, AFP | Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (L) arrives for an EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on May 17, 2018.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban has pressured Hungary’s courts, media and non-governmental groups, as well as refusing to take in asylum seekers arriving in Europe. Though the European Union has often protested, it has largely failed to stop what his critics decry as his growing authoritarianism.

>> Can the EU halt the Eastern slide toward authoritarianism?

If approved, the motion would go to the EU’s national leaders, theoretically opening the way for sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the bloc.

But in practice that is sure to be blocked by Orban’s ally, the nationalist government in Poland that is locked in its own dispute with the EU over undercutting the rule of law.

Directly addressing EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, Orban cast Wednesday’s vote as an act of revenge for his refusal to host refugees who have fled to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa since 2015.

“Hungary shall not bow to blackmail,” said Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party was re-elected with a landslide majority last April.

“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.

Orban has said the mostly Muslim refugees pose an existential threat to Europe’s Christian civilisation. He has also waged a vociferous campaign against Hungarian-born, Jewish American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and the liberal causes he backs in formerly-communist eastern Europe.

Broad criticism

The motion against Orban’s Hungary goes well beyond the migration issue.

The deputy head of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said on Tuesday he shared its authors’ concerns about “fundamental rights, corruption, the treatment of Roma and the independence of the judiciary” in Hungary under Orban.

Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, a leading liberal, said Hungary would never have been allowed to join the EU in 2004 had it been back then as it has now become under Orban. The group of leftists and greens in the assembly said “Orban’s authoritarian moves must be curbed”.

Dutch lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld urged the EU to consider cutting generous subsidies to Hungary, asking: “Why are we giving Mr Orban 87 million euros a week in order to destroy the European Union?”

Even Orban’s fellow migration hardliner, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, unexpectedly said his party’s five European lawmakers would vote against Budapest.

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

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Sebastian Kurz

Greek members of the group were planning to do the same.

But Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said his League party’s six EU lawmakers would support Orban.

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Matteo Salvini

The parties of Kurz and Orban both belong to the biggest faction in the European Parliament, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), which also includes lawmakers from the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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The EPP membership has muted EU reaction to Orban’s policies over the years and the big question mark is what the group’s 217 members will now do.

The vote represents a particular challenge for EPP’s German head Manfred Weber since he announced his bid for the presidency of the EU’s executive Commission next year.

On Tuesday Weber said the EU might need to consider launching the sanctions procedure, under Article 7.1 of the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty, if Budapest did not address the criticisms.

The EPP decided on Tuesday evening that its lawmakers would vote freely without a unified stance from the whole group. Orban might have lost some key allies as EPP lawmakers said their caucus meeting showed many would vote in favour of Article 7.

But the vote was still hard to call.

To become the first-ever case of the European Parliament asking EU capitals to launch the punitive mechanism against one of their own, it must win the backing of at least 376 lawmakers and two thirds of the votes cast.


Juncker to call on EU to flex global muscle as U.S. retreats

September 12, 2018

The European Union should flex its potential strength as a world power as the United States under President Donald Trump pulls back from international engagement, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to say on Wednesday.

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FILE PHOTO: President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker speaks about trade relations with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

An EU official familiar with the European Commission president’s annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg said a key theme would be “sovereignty,” or Europe’s collective ability to shape world policy.

“Juncker wants the EU to punch above, not below, its weight,” the official said.

With the EU still wounded by Britain’s imminent withdrawal, rising nationalism elsewhere and feuding over immigration and democratic values with right-wing eastern leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Juncker will insist the bloc is more united than it may seem and can use that to shape the world to its tastes.

As he begins a final year in office that will see Europeans elect a new EU legislature in May, the veteran former premier of Luxembourg may refer to his successful bid to talk Trump out of an immediate tariff war in July and highlight new interest from China in working with Brussels to keep world trade flowing free.

Pointing to questions in many countries over Washington’s role as the global economic leader, Juncker may also say the euro should be better promoted as a world currency, querying why EU energy imports, for example, are mostly priced in dollars when almost none of them come from the United States.

He will call for a full completion of an EU trade pact with Japan by May, one of several deals that is consolidating the EU at the heart of a web of global agreements on standards as Trump has turned Washington against multilateral obligations. And a future EU-Africa free trade area could even get a mention.

Africa should be helped with trade and investment rather than rely on aid, Juncker will say, while also proposing to beef up Europe’s defenses against poor Africans heading north. He wants to create a fully Brussels-run European Border and Coast Guard with a full-time strength of 10,000 to help keep back economic migrants whose arrival has fueled anti-EU nationalism.

Worries over how far hostile parties within and outside the European Union might try to manipulate the EU elections also lie behind a proposal to impose fines on politicians caught cheating on data protection rules and to beef up oversight of campaigning.

Juncker’s legislative proposals will face scrutiny in Parliament and from member states, with some of the latter wary of a plan to scrap their veto over some areas of foreign policy in an effort to give the EU a nimbler actor in global diplomacy.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Leslie Adler


Hungary’s Orban, champion of Europe’s ‘illiberal forces’, condemns EU ‘blackmail’

September 11, 2018

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday vowed to defy EU pressure to soften his hardline anti-migrant stance, condemning what he called the “blackmail” of his country.

“Whatever your decision will be, Hungary will not accede to this blackmail. Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration and defend its rights,” Orban told the European Parliament, which is deciding whether to start steps that could lead to political sanctions against Hungary.

© Frederick Florin, AFP | Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech at the European Parliament on September 11 in Strasbourg.

With his fierce rhetoric and anti-immigration measures, Orban, 55, has alarmed critics at home and in Europe while bolstering his populist domestic support and attracting far-right fans internationally.

European Parliament vote is expected Wednesday on a report that said Hungary is at risk of a “breach” of basic EU values.

If the vote backs the report’s findings, the “nuclear option” of Article 7 will be triggered, a procedure that could lead to the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights on EU legislation.

The report, written by Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini, lays out a lengthy list of concerns about Orban’s government since it came into power in 2010, including democratic backsliding, ill treatment of asylum-seekers, undermining NGOs and widespread corruption.

>> Can the EU halt the Eastern slide toward authoritarianism?

According to Hungarian officials, however, Sargentini’s report is “riddled with factual errors, lies and half-truths”.

“This report does not give respect to the Hungarian nation,” Orban told the lawmakers. “You think you know better than the Hungarian people what the Hungarian people need.”

Orban said that political sanctions being considered against Hungary would be the first time in the EU that “a community condemns its own border guards”.

“I reject that the European Parliament’s forces supporting immigration and migrants threaten, blackmail and with untrue accusations defame Hungary and the Hungarian people,” he said during a feisty speech.

Checks and balances

Elected with a powerful two-thirds majority in 2010, Orban unleashed a legislative whirlwind that included restrictions on the constitutional court’s powers and an overhaul of public media.

The report said that the reforms increased government influence over judges and weakened the judicial system’s ability to keep a rein on government power.

State television and news agencies have become government propaganda organs, while large portions of the private media sector have been bought up by pro-Orban oligarchs.

Most media in Hungary now follow the government line and focus on anti-migrant content while corruption scandals are reported by a dwindling number of online outlets.

Sargentini’s report expresses concern over the press reports of widespread corruption, such as conflicts of interest, inaccurate asset declarations by politicians, and public contracts – including funds from the EU – routinely awarded to Fidesz party cronies who charge inflated prices.

‘Rigged’ elections

The report says the changes to electoral laws since 2010 have also rigged the system in favour of Orban’s right-wing Fidesz.

It cites international bodies like the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which said that “excessive” government spending on advertising and the dominance of pro-Orban media created an “adverse climate” before the last election in April.

Around half of the electorate voted for Fidesz in April, handing Orban his third consecutive landslide win and a two-thirds super-majority.

The government hailed the result as a fresh mandate to carry out anti-immigration policies that Orban says reflect the “will of the people”.


Orban’s hard line on Europe’s migrant crisis, excoriating German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy and refusing to take migrants from elsewhere in the EU, has gained him admiration from nationalists and nativists abroad.

In 2015 his government erected razor-wire border fences and enabled police to physically “push back” migrants across the border into Serbia.

>> Read more: Orban and Salvini unite against Macron in anti-migrant push

Rights groups cited by the Sargentini report say Orban’s treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers falls well short of minimum international standards.

Budapest is also accused of not doing enough to stop – and in some cases facilitating – discrimination against Roma, Muslims and Jews, says Sargentini.

Stop Soros

With the number of migrants slowing to a trickle, in recent years Orban has blamed George Soros, the Hungarian-born financier, for plotting to flood Hungary and Europe with immigrants.

But taxpayer-funded billboards erected nationwide and government leaflets sent to households warning Hungarians about Soros contained “factually incorrect or highly misleading” claims and “induced hatred” against migrants, says Sargentini.

A “Stop Soros” legal package passed in June targets human rights groups that Orban accuses of being a front for migration and includes a special tax on NGO activities and even potential jail terms for staff deemed to be helping illegal migrants.

The clampdowns restrict the basic freedom of civil society and of individuals to voice criticism of the government’s policies, says the report.

Among other basic rights restricted by the government, according to the report, is the academic freedom of the Budapest-based Central European University founded by Soros.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

European Parliament to debate disciplining Hungary

September 11, 2018

The European Parliament is to discuss whether to launch disciplinary proceedings against Hungary.

MEPs will debate whether the right-wing government poses a serious risk to the EU’s values due to its policies on issues like migrants.

It comes just months after the European Commission took the step of launching similar proceedings against Poland.

However, this is the first time the parliament has tried to use the power, known as Article 7.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to fight the claims personally in the chamber, brandishing a dossier of counter-arguments more than 100 pages long.

Mr Orban and his Fidesz party say many of the accusations against them on issues over rule of law were solved long ago.

The BBC’s Nick Thorpe in Hungary says the country’s ministers, along with its vocal pro-government media, speak of a witch hunt against Fidesz, for standing up for national sovereignty against what they call the liberal elite.

Eurosceptic Mr Orban was re-elected earlier this year after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform, with Fidesz winning two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

But while he has support at home, critics in the European Parliament say his policies are evidence he does not respect the values of the EU.

A committee of MEPs points to the Hungarian government’s approach to migration – including a new law which criminalises lawyers and activists who help asylum seekers – as well as media, the courts and universities as proof.

However, in order for any sort of disciplinary proceedings to go ahead, it needs the backing of two-thirds of MEPs – and it is not clear which way the vote, due to take place on Wednesday, will fall.

If MEPs do decide to support the process, which could end up with Hungary being monitored by Brussels, it may be a very slow process.

The European Commission took the unprecedented step against Poland in December 2017, giving it three months to address concerns that its judicial reforms threatened the rule of law.

However, there is still very little sign that a conclusion is coming, BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming says.



Hungary’s Orban Tests EU’s Ability to Enforce Rule of Law

September 11, 2018

Prime minister pillories bloc’s lawmakers as elites, but he has cultivated ties with traditional parties that may shield him from censure motion

Viktor Orban has been dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Viktor Orban has been dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has built almost unchecked power at home by attacking the European Union as a club of liberal, internationalist elites. Now he is counting on some of them to protect him from censure by the bloc.

A majority of lawmakers in the European Parliament, the EU’s legislative arm, wants member countries to admonish Hungary, as they did last year with Poland, for failing to uphold European legal standards. But for the vote to pass on Wednesday, a two-third majority of the 751-strong parliament is needed.

Whatever the outcome, Mr. Orban is likely to emerge unscathed thanks to his skills in testing the limits of what is acceptable in a Western democracy.

Dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon, Mr. Orban rose to power by pillorying the EU. But unlike President Trump, who has lambasted political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Orban over the past decade cultivated links with Europe’s traditional parties. Their support could be pivotal in a vote that will test the EU’s authority to check the powers of nationalists.

Mr. Orban will have the chance to defend his government in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday, in which he is expected to appeal to some of those supporters, who span members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, British conservatives and Italian lawmakers in the far-right League party.

His government has attacked the vote as a “witch hunt,” with government spokesman Laszlo Kovacs on Monday accusing lawmakers of perpetrating lies to punish Hungary for its opposition to liberal migration policies.

The lead drafter of the censure, Judith Sargentini, a Dutch lawmaker from the leftist Greens party, last week said her motion was based on the findings of many international bodies critical of Mr. Orban. “There is no turning back to a normal functioning democracy in Hungary,” she said.

To mollify his critics, Mr. Orban is expected to promise he will roll back some measures that sparked ire, such as his government’s targeting of universities and NGOs critical of his regime, an EU parliamentary official said.

But even if the vote passes and the sanctions procedure is triggered, the conflict with Brussels could help Mr. Orban, who has for years reveled in several disputes with the EU. The sanctions procedure carries little more than political stigma and the bloc would struggle to impose sanctions, such as a suspension of its voting rights. Mr. Orban has promised to veto any sanctions against Poland, which is fighting an EU case against it, so that he can count on Warsaw doing the same for him.

Since returning to power in 2010, Mr. Orban has given his party authority over Hungary’s courts, media, the central bank and tax inspectors to build what he has called an “illiberal state” modeled on Russia, China, and Turkey. He won a resounding two-thirds majority in parliament in April, in a vote that election observers called free, but not fair.

Viktor Orban with Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s coalition government and the leader of the League, which has taken inspiration from the Hungarian leader’s stance on immigration.
Viktor Orban with Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s coalition government and the leader of the League, which has taken inspiration from the Hungarian leader’s stance on immigration. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Orban blames the EU’s political elite, and Ms. Merkel in particular, for allowing a “Muslim invasion” of Europe during the 2015 migration crisis that brought more than one million people fleeing war or seeking a better life into the bloc.

Yet some of those elites still defend Mr. Orban. His Fidesz party belongs to the powerful European People’s Party in the European Parliament. The EPP includes Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. One EPP official described Mr. Orban as “our most loyal” member, and favorably compared his party with the ruling party in Poland, which isn’t affiliated with the EPP and has long shunned answering any questions from Brussels.

“Mr. Orban always knew when to back down and avoid sanctions,” the EPP official said.

Tensions within the German government also help Mr. Orban. Ms. Merkel may want to punish him, but the Bavarian CSU—which has pressed the chancellor to take a tougher line on migration—has not only backed Mr. Orban, but has also invited him to speak to their party gatherings.

The party and Ms. Merkel in July barely papered over their differences on immigration to avert the government’s collapse. With Bavarian elections set for October, Ms. Merkel and EU lawmakers from the CSU are unlikely to test their fragile alliance so soon, according to two EU officials.

Still, pressure is mounting on the EPP to take a stand against its Hungarian member: French President Emmanuel Macron, who isn’t affiliated with any pan-EU party, said last week that the EPP couldn’t support both Ms. Merkel and Mr. Orban and should “clarify its position.”

Yet other parties in the European Parliament support Mr. Orban. The Hungarian president has bolstered his position by supporting nationalist parties in Austria, Poland, and Slovenia that see Hungary as a model. Italy’s League, a member of the country’s ruling coalition, is taking inspiration from him on migration.

The ruling party in the U.K. is also voting against punishing Hungary. British Conservative EU lawmaker Daniel Dalton said, “We don’t think the EU should meddle in the internal situation, where member states are sovereign.”

Write to Valentina Pop at and Drew Hinshaw at

Swedes Vote as Establishment Faces Down Far-Right Challenge

September 9, 2018

Nationalist Swedish Democrat party expected to win nearly a quarter of the vote, polls suggest

Social Democrat supporters campaign in Stockholm on Friday, two days before the nation’s general election.
Social Democrat supporters campaign in Stockholm on Friday, two days before the nation’s general election. PHOTO: INTS KALNINS/REUTERS

Swedes are heading to the polls Sunday in an election in which an anti-immigration party rooted in neo-Nazism is threatening to upend the political order in one of Europe’s most traditionally liberal nations.

Following a polarizing campaign dominated by the issues of immigration and crime, the nationalist Sweden Democrats are poised to win between 17% and 24% of the vote, according to opinion polls, up from 12.9% in 2014.

Any score above 20% could make it impossible for center-left or center-right parties to form a stable coalition.

After populist successes in Italy, Hungary and Austria in recent months, such an outcome would be the latest example of how the refugee crisis of 2015 is continuing to redraw political landscapes even in the continent’s most stable democracies.

While they have long disavowed their far-right roots, the Sweden Democrats have campaigned for a de-facto ban on accepting new asylum seekers and the faster deportation of illegal immigrants.

All of Sweden’s other parties have vowed not to govern with them, although some center-right politicians have discussed the possibility of entering a minority government supported by the populist party.

Exit polls are set to be released soon after the vote ends at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), with official results expected around midnight.

The latest opinion polls suggest Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s center-left Social Democrats, traditionally the dominant party in Sweden, could suffer their worst showing in history. The center-right Moderate party is vying for second place with the Sweden Democrats.

Both centrist parties, which have alternated in power at the helm of their respective center-right and center-left alliances, adopted some of the Sweden Democrats’ antimigrant rhetoric after the 2015 spike in asylum seekers sparked a popular backlash.

New ArrivalsSweden has taken in increasing numbers ofimmigrants in recent years.Inflows of foriegners into SwedenSource: Organization for Economic Cooperation andDevelopment

The country took in more than 160,000 people during 2015, even more per inhabitant than Germany, the migrants’ main destination upon entering Europe. Shortly after the influx peaked in the summer, Mr. Löfven closed the border and hardened asylum rules.

With the Sweden Democrats closing in, Ulf Kristersson, leader of the center-right bloc, last week called the country’s decadeslong liberal approach to immigration “very unsuccessful.”

For over a decade, Sweden welcomed more asylum seekers per capita than the U.S. Yet while such openness enjoyed broad acceptance among the main political parties, it was never backed by a majority of the population, said Patrik Ohberg, a political scientist at Gothenburg University.

“Publicly discussing mass immigration and crime was considered evil, but now there is a rude awakening and mainstream politicians are forced to admit they were wrong, and the far-right was right—and this helps the Sweden Democrats,” Mr. Ohberg said.

Certain types of crime such as gun homicide and rape have been rising, mainly in small immigrant-populated areas. But linking crime to mass migration was long a taboo in the public debate.

Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, campaigns in Sundsvall, Sweden, on Aug. 17
Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, campaigns in Sundsvall, Sweden, on Aug. 17 PHOTO: TT NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS

This changed recently, as more statistics drew a close correlation between immigration and crime, adding fuel to the electoral campaign.

Last week, public broadcaster SVT published court data showing that 58% of convicted rapists in the 2012-17 period were foreigners.

Sweden’s economy has been performing passably, but economists warn it faces headwinds—including a weakening currency, record levels of private debt and a per-capita economic growth rate that has become one of the slowest in the European Union.

In this context, an ambiguous election result with no clear majority resulting in a fragile government or protracted coalition negotiations might unsettle markets and exacerbate those problems.

Mattias Karlsson, parliamentary leader for the Sweden Democrats, said despite rival parties’ backtracking on immigration, voters remained disillusioned.

“Confidence in government is very low at the moment but confidence in our policies has increased because we have kept the same position,” Mr. Karlsson said.

He said his party would back a minority government that pledged to implement the populist party’s immigration platform.

“If nearly a quarter of the people vote for us, the other parties can’t keep ignoring our policies. They will have to adopt them,” Mr. Karlsson said.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at