The Tories were the only governing conservative party in western Europe to support Viktor Orbán in the European Parliament’s vote on the rule of law in Hungary.
At euronews, we believe all views matter. To better understand that vote, its reasons and possible consequences, we asked British members of the European Parliament from different political parties to share their perspective on this subject by answering our questions.
Here are the answers of Julie Ward, Member of the European Parliament representing the Labour Party:
Euronews: The UK is the only Western European country whose almost all representatives of the ruling party in the EP voted against the Sargentini report on the situation in Hungary. As an opposition MEP, what do you think of this choice of your Conservative colleagues?
Julie Ward: The irresponsibility of the Conservative Party is shocking. The fact that they stood by Mr Orban’s actions against human rights, democracy and the rule of law, shows the little significance they attach to these fundamental values. The Tories are currently having great difficulty because of the impossible Brexit deal they are trying to negotiate. They don’t seem to realise that their position in government at this very difficult time for Britain makes it even more important to stand by our values.
It is important to note that the Tories sit in the European Parliament along with PiS, the Polish ruling party, who have taken very hostile actions against the independence of the judiciary in their country. These actions leave you wondering whether the Tories see democracy as a priority. The way they are steam-rolling ahead with a Brexit that the majority of the British people do not now want, procured with a narrow percentage in a referendum that was influenced by foreign interference and the targeting of information through psychological profiling and illegal data harvesting gives some indication that the Conservative Party has now shifted to the far right. Prof Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law at the University of Liverpool, has described the current iteration of the Conservative Party as ‘neo-fascist‘.
Euronews: Do you agree with those who say that the main reason for such a vote was Mr Orbán’s support in Brexit talks?
Julie Ward: I think the Tories understand that the Brexit deal they are negotiating is very harmful to the UK, especially on the international scene. They know that leaving the European Union means losing important allies and they are desperately trying to find new ones.
The alliances they are making are frankly appalling: outside Europe they are cosying up to regimes like Turkey and Saudi Arabia! As a Member of the European Parliament who constantly works on cases of human rights violations in these countries, I am shocked when I see my government making pacts with them.
Through these actions, the Tories are undermining democracy both at the national, European and international level. Their disregard for the grave attacks on human rights, democracy and rule of law in Hungary and other countries, is further proof of how little they care about the fundamental values which protect lives.
The hard-right Brexiteers in the Conservative Party want the UK to leave the European Union at any cost. The Brexit they are designing is one that will further marginalise the most fragile communities, in the UK and beyond. And they have now betrayed the Hungarian people by voting in defence of their own interest.
Euronews: What is your opinion on the situation in Hungary and, in particular, on the rule of law in that country compared to other EU members?
Julie Ward: I visited Hungary over the summer to attend the Pride celebrations. As we walked in the streets of Budapest, violent fascist counter-protesters threatened us. This is what Mr Orban is creating: his behaviour is emboldening fascist and racist tendencies.
The Sargentini report lays it all down - Mr Orban has perpetrated attacks on the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression, academic freedom, civil society, the rights of minorities (such as the Roma) and refugees. Many MEPs and NGOs have been calling for the adoption of measures against the Hungarian government for several years.
The most worrying element is that Mr Orban is explicitly basing his legislation on right wing racist and discriminatory ideology. He constantly makes hostile, racist comments against people seeking asylum, women, LGBTIQ+ people, and human rights defenders.
The laws asking for more “transparency” from NGOs are actually used to criminalise free voices in Hungary, in particular human rights defenders. The situation for academics is also very concerning.
I have witnessed these issues in many countries that I visit and with civil society organisations that I am working with at present. In Russia or Israel, for instance, NGOs receiving foreign funding are facing greater financial and legal difficulties; human rights defenders are arrested and imprisoned.
Euronews: Do you agree with what Viktor Orbán wrote in his letter to British Conservative MEPs, saying that the Sargentini report “is a verdict against Hungary and the Hungarian people” and not a critic of his government and his policies?
Julie Ward: On the contrary! I believe voting in favour of this report was an important act of solidarity with the Hungarian people. Mr Orban pretends he represents all Hungarians, but in reality he is only defending his own personal interests.
This is one of the key issues of this debate. Mr Orban’s defence is to say that he was elected by the majority of the Hungarian people, and that anyone that criticises him is attacking democracy. It’s very clear that he has no idea what a democracy is! Parliamentary democracies are indeed based on the majority‘s choice of elected officials - but also on the rights of minorities, the separation of powers, and the principles of freedom of opinion and expression.
Mr Orban also seems to be forgetting that Hungary freely joined the European Union! The Hungarian state signed the treaties, and thereby is obliged to uphold the fundamental values of the European Union laid out in Article 2.
His vicious attempts to manipulate his own citizens will not stop the European Parliament from standing by human rights and the rule of law.
Julie Ward is a British Member of the European Parliament representing the Labour Party.
Opinions expressed in View articles are those of the author.