Austrian conservatives will back EU motion against Hungary

 Austrian conservatives in the European Parliament will vote in favour of a motion finding that Hungary has persistently breached the European Union’s values, Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said late on Monday.
FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (not pictured) attend a news conference in Skopje, Macedonia September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo
The decision is unusual for Kurz given his close ties to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fellow immigration hard-liner. Kurz has said he hopes to use those ties to build bridges between western EU member states and eastern ones that have clashed over immigration and other issues.
Austria’s five conservatives are a tiny fraction of the two-thirds of votes needed in the 750-seat assembly for the so-called Article 7 procedure to pass. That would set in motion a process that could lead to sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary’s voting rights.
“The Austrian (conservative) lawmakers will vote in favour because we believe that there can be no compromises on the rule of law and democracy and it is therefore important that the accusations that have been made against Hungary are cleared up,” Kurz told ORF television.
Kurz’s People’s Party is in the same conservative bloc in the European Parliament as Orban’s Fidesz. Austria also holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year.
Orban was due to address the European Parliament on Tuesday ahead of a vote on the Article 7 procedure later this week.
His Fidesz party won a parliamentary election last April by a landslide, buoyed by migration policies including a refusal to take any resettled asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa after a wave of arrivals in Europe that began in 2015.
Orban has put pressure on courts, media and non-government groups since he came to power in 2010. Though the EU has often protested, it has largely failed to stop him in what his critics denounce as a growing authoritarian drive.
Kurz, however, appeared to suggest that other Eastern European countries should also face an Article 7 procedure.
“It is ... not only necessary to take a closer look at Hungary but also when we look at the situation in Poland, in Hungary, in Romania, in Slovakia, where there was recently a murder of a journalist, there too it is necessary to look very closely,” he said.
Theresa May’s MEPs will protect Viktor Orban’s authoritarian government from EU sanctions in an upcoming vote in the European Parliament, the Conservatives have said.
Tory sources in Strasbourg confirmed that their MEPs would be voting against a motion to trigger the so-called Article 7 procedure to censure Hungary over alleged violations of the rule of law.
Mr Orban’s government has been accused of violating press freedoms, undermining judicial independence, and waging a state-backed antisemitic campaign against Jewish businessman George Soros. It is also subject to allegations of corruption relating to the alleged misspending EU funds by Mr Orban’s friends and family, while the Prime Minister himself has described refugees as "Muslim invaders" and been accused of being deeply Islamophobic. 
Tory sources said their MEPs would oppose the process because they see it as “politicised” and that they believe the wrong approach is being taken. They say their MEPs’ decision is not a comment on the situation in Hungary.
Labour branded the decision “disgraceful”, arguing that Orban’s “record on political freedom, equality and human rights, Islamophobia and antisemitism, shames Europe”.
The Conservatives’ votes may prove decisive, as it is unclear whether the motion will pass: though a majority of all MEPs are expected to back the motion on Wednesday, it requires an enhanced two-thirds majority of votes to be successful.
Mr Orban travelled to Strasbourg on Tuesday to make his government’s case in a debate in the European Parliament. The highest sanction under the process, if it is seen through to it conclusion, would be stripping Hungary of its voting rights European Council level; a similar procedure is underway against Poland, which has been accused of undermining the independence of its judiciary.
It is absolutely disgraceful that the Conservatives would even consider propping up Viktor Orban's Fidesz government
Richard Corbett, Labour MEPs leader
The vote was triggered after the European Parliament’s home affairs committee voted by 37 to 19 in favour of a report backing the censure motion. The Conservative MEP on the committee also voted against the plan then, joining with continental far-right parties including the French Front National, Austria’s FPOe, and Sweden Democrats.
Asked about the vote, Conservative Home Affairs spokesman Dan Dalton said: “This report crosses a boundary by politicising what should be a purely legal matter.
“If the EU's treaties have been breached by any Member State, it is for the European Commission to build a legal case against it. MEPs have no role to play in the process and their involvement leaves any subsequent legal action open to the accusation that it is politically motivated.
“This report is misguided, counter-productive and sets a dangerous precedent. I hope parliament votes against.”