by Jeremy Hawkins
STRASBOURG, France, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- The mood at the European Parliament in Strasbourg turned volatile on Tuesday when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, during a tense debate on issues including his country's rule of law, accused European representatives of insulting Hungary.
Orban was in Strasbourg to respond to members of the European Parliament who, meeting for their first plenary session since the summer break, were debating whether to recommend a disciplinary procedure known as Article 7 against Hungary.
At question is whether recent actions taken by the Hungarian government -- including several anti-migrant measures -- run the risk of being a "serious breach of EU values".
Dubbed so-called "nuclear option", article 7 of the EU treaty is a mechanism for the EU to steer wayward members back toward the values on which the world's largest trading bloc were founded, including respect for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Under Article 7, the European Council, or heads of national governments, may declare that there is a risk of a serious breach of European values by a member state.
Such a declaration requires a four-fifths majority and may subsequently involve sanctions against the member state in question. Among other consequences, the country could be stripped of its vote in the European Council.
In a draft resolution approved by five European Parliament committees before passing to the full plenary, MEPs expressed concern for a number of European values -- enshrined in the European treaties ratified by all member states upon joining -- that have been allegedly under attack in Hungary.
One of the biggest sticking points, however, is the response to the European migrant crisis by the Hungarian government, which has refused to participate in an EU-wide refugee relocation scheme.
"Hungary will not accede to this blackmailing, Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration and ... if needed we will stand up to you," Viktor Orban said in a strong response to the accusations made in the European Parliament.
Orban, leader of the Fidesz party, won reelection in April 2018 by a landslide, gaining a 2/3 majority in the Hungarian parliament after voters backed his anti-immigration platform, and entering his third consecutive term in office.
He argued that Hungarians had fought for European values, and that their democracy was earned, in contrast to the MEPs who criticized him.
"You believe you know better than Hungarians themselves what they need. This report does not give due respect to Hungarians," he added.
VOTE ON ARTICLE 7
MEPs will vote Wednesday on whether to call on member states to trigger Article 7 measures, designed to prevent a serious breach of European values.
If the resolution is adopted, it will be the first time that the European Parliament takes the initiative for such a procedure, though it has backed an Article 7 action taken against Poland, triggered in December 2017 by the European Commission.
How MEPs will vote, however, is unclear.
While voices were heard criticizing Orban in Strasbourg Tuesday, his Fidezs party is a member of the European People's Party (EPP) political group, the largest party in the European Parliament. How its members vote will have an impact on whether a majority can be found.
"Without a readiness of the Hungarian government to solve the current issues, the legal concerns that are on the table. The start of a dialogue based on Article 7.1 could be needed," Manfred Weber told the chamber on Tuesday.
The German MEP currently serves as the head of the center-right EPP in the European Parliament. He is now vying to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker as Europe's most powerful official at the helm of its executive branch, according to a report by the British newspaper Express.