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Hungary's Orban to address EU parliament rule of law debate

Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban will address the EU parliament
Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban will address the EU parliament AFP

Brussels (AFP)

Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban will address the European Parliament next week as it debates whether to call for disciplinary proceedings against his government over threats to the rule of law.

Euro MPs will debate on Tuesday whether to demand so-called Article 7 proceedings against Hungary, which could ultimately see Budapest's EU voting rights suspended -- a procedure only launched once before, against Poland last December.

The parliament's "conference of presidents" -- the speaker and heads of the major political groups -- have given the go-ahead for Orban to speak at the beginning of the debate, and his aides confirmed his attendance to AFP.

The motion to be debated asks the European Council, which groups the member states, "to determine whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values" of the EU and make "appropriate recommendations to Hungary".

A parliamentary report by Greens MEP Judith Sargentini lists a series of "concerns" about Orban's populist Fidesz government, including constitutional and electoral issues, judicial independence, freedom of expression, minority rights and the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.

"This is a request to the Council to do their own investigation. It's politically huge but the immediate effects are not there," Sargentini said.

To pass, the motion needs the backing of a majority of MEPs and at least two thirds of the votes cast, which sets the stage for a tight result.

The votes of the biggest grouping, the centre-right EPP which counts Orban's Fidesz party as a member, will be closely watched. EPP chief Manfred Weber has said there could not be "favourable treatment on questions of fundamental values".

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has clashed repeatedly with Orban's government, especially since the migration crisis erupted in 2015.

The clashes come amid broader fears that Hungary, Poland and other eastern countries from the former Soviet-bloc were turning away from the democratic values on which the EU is built.

The commission launched legal action against Poland earlier this year after deciding that its response to the Article 7 proceedings was insufficient.

While the Article 7 procedure could lead to a suspension of voting rights, Hungary has said it would veto any attempt to impose such a penalty on Poland, and it is likely Warsaw would reciprocate.

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