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Sargentini Report: what’s next? Consequences and Analysis of the votes

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Vote on the Sargentini report: Hungarian government denounces electoral fraud – populists behind Orbán – Jobbik abstains – Kurz looses Orbán

European Union – The Sargentini report, which states that Hungary is violating the values of the European Union, calls for the activation of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which may lead to the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the Community institutions, was adopted by a large majority on Wednesday 12 September 2018.

Results of the vote on the Sargentini Report on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, in Strasbourg, France.

A disputed vote?

Here is the precise detail of the vote of the 750 MEPs:

– 693 votes (57 absent)
– 448 votes in favour (65%)
– 197 votes against (28%)
– 48 abstentions (7%)

The intervention of Viktor Orbán, who came in person to defend, did not turned the tide, including within the EPP, the group of the Fidesz MEPs. As the 109-page document produced in English and sent to each MEP neither.

Orbán himself was not optimistic the day before the vote, stating clearly in the press conference following his speech that the order had come from Berlin.

For the record, it should be noted that the same morning of the plenary session of September 11, another head of government was invited to speak in front of the European parliamentarians: the Greek Prime Minister Aléxis Tsípras. While Tsípras had the opportunity to express himself for almost an hour on a debate that lasted 2 hours 30 minutes, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was able to express himself for, cumulatively, 11 minutes in a debate that lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes.

Following the vote, the Hungarian authorities quickly denounced that they consider to be a fraud. Indeed, the triggering of the procedure provided for in Article 7 provides that 2/3 of MEPs must vote yes on the proposal. If we take into account only the votes in favour and against, it gives 448 votes in favour out of 645, or 69% of the votes. On the other hand, if we also consider abstentions (total number of 48), the votes in favour only represent 65% of the votes cast. Hence the will of the Hungarian authorities to appeal.

The Populists behind Orbán

Only the ENF group, co-led by the French Nicolas Bay, which includes the elected members of the National Rally (former National Front, FN), the Austrian FPÖ and the Italian Lega, voted as one against the Sargentini report. In the other direction, the Greens-European Free Alliance group also voted as one man: all the votes cast were in favor of the Sargentini report.

In the EFDD group of Nigel Farage, whose comparison between the EU and Brezhnev’s doctrine of limited sovereignty was appreciated and noted by Orbán in a press conference, only the Italian elected representatives of the 5-star movement failed following their fellow group members and voted in favour of the report.

The other group that voted against the report is the ECR group, which includes the British Conservatives (the Tories) and the elected members of the Polish government party, the PiS.

A disciplined EPP

At the EPP level, the vote breaks down as follows:

– 114 votes in favour
– 57 votes against (including the 12 Fidesz MEPs)
– 28 abstentions
– 20 absent during the vote

The Jobbik abstained, the LMP was (voluntarily) absent during the vote, the liberal left Hungarian MEPs voted the Sargentini report

At the level of Hungarian non-Fidesz MEPs, the liberal left-wing MPs (MSZP, DK, Együtt) all voted in favour of the Sargentini report. The LMP ecologist party MEP Tamás Meszerics was deliberately absent during the vote.

The only remaining MEP from Jobbik, Zoltán Balczó, abstained. This confirms the Jobbik strategy of heavy opposition to Fidesz and Orbán, which contributed to the identity crisis and the recent split of the party. However, this abstention might as well disappoint the voters of the Jobbik supporters of national unity behind the Hungarian government as the supporters of the total opposition to Fidesz, and thus satisfy few people among supporters of the formerly radical party.

The other two MEPs elected on the Jobbik list in 2014 voted against. Krisztina Morvai, a long-time Jobbik figure, definitely turned her back on her old comrades to support Fidesz in 2018 when Jobbik approached the liberal opposition to consider a coalition of “all against Orbán”.

As for Béla Kovács, since the KGBéla affair, he is practically absent from public life and officially resigned from Jobbik in December 2017 to no longer be an embarrassment for his former party in view of the legislative elections of April 2018.

Kurz looses Orbán

Among the defections inflicted on Orbán, that of the Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz is one of those which surprised the most. What are the reasons? Loyalty to the EPP, orders from Berlin, or willing to move away from the embarrassing figure of Orbán.

In any case, Othmar Karas, head of the Austrian delegation of the ÖVP (the conservative Austrian party of Chancellor Kurz) was straightforward: “Our Europe is that of Juncker, not that of Orbán.” Othmar Karas also favored the suspension of Fidesz from the EPP.

Other possibilities might be considered, such as this sensitive issue on which the Visegrád Post published an article, which is the Black Sea gas. A topic on which the Hungarian and Austrian interests are divergent: “Some forums also openly criticized Dragnea for having endorsed the revised BRU variant of the BRUA agreement; the disappearance of the “A” originally present in the initials (« Bulgaria-Romania-hUngary-Austria ») signifies the exclusion of Austria, that is to say the fact that the terminus of the conduct must now officially be on Hungarian territory – a modification imposed by Hungary with a clear concern not to let the center of gravity of this new southeastern European geography of gas leave its territory.

The elected representatives of the Romanian PSD as well as Czech and Slovak partners were not behind Orbán neither

On the Romanian side, the vote of the PSD’s MEPs, the party headed by Liviu Dragnea, was also closely watched. Especially since the policy of the PSD and the various violent demonstrations of the opposition, which has repeatedly tried to initiate a color revolution, the Romanian government could be sooner or later in the visor of Brussels.

Although “Socialist” and member of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the Romanian PSD operates in a national framework where the notions of right and left have virtually no meaning. Indeed, it is this  same “left” party that is currently trying to impose an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage by attempting to hold a referendum on this subject, to which the “right wing” President Johannis strongly opposes.

Apart from a few absences and one abstention, all the elected members of the PSD voted for the Sargentini report. Last March, however, a larger number of PSD MEPs sided with Poland.

On the Slovak side, out of the 4 elected members of former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s party, 3 abstained and 1 voted in favour of the resolution. As members of the Socialist fraction, it was not easy for them to do more. It should be noted that in March 2018, they voted for the resolution against Poland requesting the activation of Article 7.

On the Czech side, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s party MEPs are members of the liberal ALDE group led by Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt, all of whom voted in favor of the Sargentini report. They had already voted in the same way against Poland.

Unsurprisingly, however, the four Hungarian minority MEPs from Romania and Slovakia all rejected the Sargentini report.

The explanations for these votes are probably multiple. Among the hypotheses that can be put forward, we recall the incredibly low interest in the political life of the European Parliament in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The 87% of abstention in the 2014 European elections in Slovakia bears witness to this. In these countries, the European Parliament is often seen only as a distant place to drive away so-and-so or to offer important but on the decline figures a friendly pre-retirement. When it’s not just a seat to place relatives.

In comparison, the seriousness of the Fidesz delegation is a bit of an exception in the region.

However, this is not exclusive to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In France, because of the uninominal voting system in national parliamentary elections which excludes important public figures, many of them are looking for a place at the European Parliament, waiting for the next legislative election.

Given the increased stakes in the European Parliament, however, it is likely that the next European lists of May 2019 will be constituted more seriously, with more involved MEPs and above all more disciplined to the interests and instructions of their parties.

What’s next?

Provided that Parliament’s vote is confirmed despite the Hungarian legal recourse, several questions arise as to the outcome of this vote.

As far as Fidesz is concerned, its presence in the EPP seems more and more difficult. However, Orbán made it clear that he had no intention of leaving the EPP, recalling that he had been invited there in the late 1990s (until then Fidesz was a member of the Liberal International) by the late German Chancellor Kohl, whom is no more. He also recalled that in the state of things his visit to Milan where he met the new Italian Minister of the Interior Salvini was not a question of political party but of defense of the borders.

The next step in the legal process of activating Article 7 is the European Council, which brings together the Heads of State and Government of the Member States of the European Union. In principle, each state (excluding the concerned state) has a veto right, which could however be circumvented technically by a 4/5 majority, thereby avoiding the mutual protection that Poland and Hungary could grant each other, both threatened by this Article 7, whose governments are close and supportive, and whose countries are bound by a thousand-year-old friendship.

This vote also definitively launches the battle of the Europeans elections of 2019, where the projects of Orbán (announced last July) and Macron will now clash until May 2019. In any case, Orbán has already announced that he believes that if the EPP gets rid of Fidesz and makes an alliance in the future with the Liberals and Socialists, then Europe will be governed by a majority favorable to immigration and the story to be written will no longer be that of the Europeans. The terms of the debate are set.