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 Theresa Griffin, Labour MEP for the North West of England:
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?
Theresa Griffin: It is not only extremely disappointing, but also deeply worrying, that the majority of British Conservative MEPs voted to support Viktor Orban’s hardline authoritarian government in Hungary. There have been attacks on migrants, journalists have been harassed, political opponents have been persecuted and the judiciary has been undermined - these actions are not compatible with European values. By opposing these measures against Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government, the Tories are condoning his actions.
But given the Tories sit with some deeply questionable people, including Islamophobes, anti-Semites and white supremacists, in their Group in the European Parliament, it comes as no surprise that Theresa May and the Tories would be willing to make common cause with the Hungarian government if they think it will further their interests.
Euronews: Do you agree with those who say that the main reason for such a vote was Mr Orbán’s support in Brexit talks?
Theresa Griffin: In a recent interview, the UK’s Environment Secretary, Michael Gove MP, when questioned about the impact of the recent vote on the Sargentini report said that he did not believe “individual criticisms of the kind you are understandably tempting me to make necessarily help us in ensuring we get both solidarity on the issues that count and the best deal for Britain as we leave the European Union.”
It is clear that at the highest levels of the Cabinet, Conservative politicians are worried about criticising Hungary in any way, because they want to secure favourable treatment in the Brexit negotiations.
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?
Theresa Griffin: While a number of member states of the EU have displayed some worrying practices, the Hungarian Government has consistently behaved in an anti-democratic manner and put oppressive policies in place regarding minorities and refugees.
The Népszava newspaper commissioned the Pulzus polling firm in the days after the vote, which discovered that 80% of Hungarians were aware of the vote on the Sargentini report and 63% of respondents agreed that “there are systemic problems with the rule of law in Orbán’s Hungary.” It is clear that even Hungarians themselves can see how much Orban’s government has weakened the rule of law in Hungary.
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?
Theresa Griffin: Viktor Orbán has presided over a climate of rising Islamophobia and anti-semitism, led attacks on judicial and media independence, and promoted the abhorrent treatment of refugees and minorities in Hungary. The Sargentini report was an indictment of the authoritarian and populist practices of Viktor Orban’s hard-line reactionary government, not in any way a criticism of the state or people of Hungary, although it may suit Orban to pretend that it was.
The same poll as mentioned above found that only 26% agreed with Orbán’s statement that the proceedings in the European Parliament were punishment of Hungarians for his migration policies.
Theresa Griffinis a British Member of the European Parliament representing the Labour Party.