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Late to the party: Commission will hold its first debate on Hungary's "illiberal" drift on 12 April
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The European Commission will reportedly hold its first debate "over the drift towards 'illiberal democracy' in Hungary" on 12 April after years of critiques and protests over the situation in the country from human rights groups, journalists, commentators and others. Meanwhile some MEPs within the European People's Party Group in the European Parliament - also home to MEPs from Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban's governing party, Fidesz - have said that the use of Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows Member States' voting rights in the Council to be suspended, may be invoked "if the situation with Hungary continues".

See: Commission to debate Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ drift on 12 April (EurActiv, link): "The Juncker Commission will hold a “first debate” over the drift towards ‘illiberal democracy’ in Hungary at its next meeting on Wednesday (12 April), with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans making a presentation."

And: EPP warns Budapest with Article 7 ‘nuclear option’ (EurActiv, link): "If the democratic drift in Hungary continues, the European Union may consider placing Budapest under the Article 7 procedure of the EU Treaty, which provides for sanctions against a member state, the spokesperson from the European People’s Party (EPP) warned."

Five months ago, human rights organisation FIDH published a detailed study on the 600 laws and measures introduced by Orban's government that "have had an adverse impact on human rights across sectors and negatively affected the separation of powers." See: Six years of Orbán, 600 laws and measures: EU "must show it is serious" about democracy and fundamental rights in Hungary (Statewatch News Online, 4 November 2016)

Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty states (emphasis added):

"1. On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 [respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the
rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities].
Before making such a determination, the Council shall hear the Member State in question and may address recommendations to it, acting in accordance with the same procedure.

The Council shall regularly verify that the grounds on which such a determination was made continue to apply.

2. The European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2, after inviting the Member State in question to submit its observations.

3. Where a determination under paragraph 2 has been made, the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council. In doing so, the Council shall take into account the possible consequences of such a suspension on the rights and obligations of natural and legal persons.

The obligations of the Member State in question under this Treaty shall in any case continue to be binding on that State.

4. The Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide subsequently to vary or revoke measures taken under paragraph 3 in response to changes in the situation which led to their being imposed.

5. The voting arrangements applying to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council for the purposes of this Article are laid down in Article 354 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union."

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