MEPs are divided over Hungary’s planned constitutional reforms that the EU argues could be a threat to human rights.
The row centres on a proposal to curb the power of the country’s top court, which is yet to be passed by Hungarian MPs.
Some MEPs say Orban’s Fidesz party is simply trying to consolidate power and its large parliamentary majority.
Yet centre-right allies of Hungarian Prime MInister Viktor Orban have rallied behind him.
“Mr. Orban has answered all questions and his colleagues even applauded him. What I want now is that we get in black and white what is OK and what is not OK,” said Joseph Daul, the leader of the EPP group in the European Parliament.
But left-leaning and liberal MEPs want the EU to get tough and take action.
Former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt, now a liberal member of the assembly, pointed to a treaty provision which could be used to strip Budapest of its voting rights inside the 27-member bloc.
“I’m calling for an Article 7 procedure to be opened. Article 7 of the EU treaty say that when we do not measures up to democratic values and principles, and fundamental rights, then member states can start debating, give recommendations and then even sanction the offending country,” he told Euronews.
Similar measures that have already been passed include a ban on party political advertisements on private radio and television, and fining or jailing the homeless.
Meanwhile, European Commission for Justice Viviane Reding defended the EU executive, seen as the guardian of the treaties.
She said the Commission had been completely impartial in its handling of Hungary’s case.