By Wajid Khan
The Parliament voting to suspend Hungary showed Europe’s positives and negatives
I have never been more proud of the European Parliament - and more concerned about the malicious Conservatives and their cronies dragging Europe towards totalitarianism.
I wasn’t sure how to feel when the European Parliament passed the report put forward by MEP Sargentini to urge member states to trigger article 7 and suspend Hungary from its EU privileges. The motion, which moves to enact article 7, would see Hungary suspended from the EU’s benefits but still adhering to its obligations. I was elated that an increasingly totalitarian regime would be held to account, but I was equally appalled that so many MEPs stood up and defended the Hungarian administration’s slide towards totalitarianism. This includes the UK’s ruling Conservative Party.
Sitting on the Foreign Affairs committee and the Human Rights subcommittee, I regularly make statements to Parliament condemning human rights abuses and rule of law violations in countries outside the EU. But, in order for Europe to be a champion of human rights globally, we have to get our own house in order first. It is notable that the three Conservative MEPs who defied the whip, Nosheena Mobarik, Charles Tannock and Sajjad Karim, all have a record of speaking up against human rights abuses. Rightly, they realised that their admirable condemnation of countries outside the EU would smack of hypocrisy if they support the Hungarian government within the EU.
The current Hungarian administration has endorsed attacks on migrants and the harassment of journalists, as well as the harassment of political opponents. There have been attacks on the judiciary, on media freedom, and on academic freedom. Certain religious groups have been banned from forming legal entities. In a progressive and modern Europe, the need to make a strong statement to them that this cannot continue is clear.
These Conservatives will do anything to keep power
I was also appalled that the British Conservative Party voted to defend their crony, Orban, from this motion. They were the only ruling party in Europe to make this decision, and they permanently expelled two of their suspended MEPs after not voting with their group, but with their conscience. Their Machiavellian motivation is clear - they need all the support they can get from member states to get their botched plan for Brexit through the Council. The Conservatives think that the smartest thing they have done in the negotiation is to pivot away from the Commission and appeal to individual member states. They are dividing and they think it will help them to rule. A Conservative politician told the Independent: “No one will say it publicly, but it’s clear that we are going to gain brownie points with people who might be able to help us in the Brexit negotiations.” And there it is – the Conservatives will stoop so low as to put their increasingly desperate Brexit plans before the defence of human rights on their own doorstep.
There has been widespread condemnation of the Conservatives standing up for their dictator friend, Orban, and they have been left scrambling to dilute and justify their stance. The Independent reported that they immediately felt the need to clarify that they did not support Orban, but that it was a legal, technical issue. Daniel Dalton, a Conservative MEP, then doubled down on this logic in an article for the Telegraph. This article (paywall) is some bizarre attempt to justify their vote, suggesting that it is a matter of legal technicality that led them to become apologists for a dictator - a cynical attempt to cover over their trading of values for support.
The European Parliament sent a strong signal to those who want to keep EU benefits and not its obligations. In fact, it sounds a bit like the Conservative UK government and its attempt at cherry-picking the economic benefits of EU membership. But this episode shows that EU has always been more than a mere common market; it is a community based on fundamental values. If the Conservatives or Fidesz cannot grasp that, they should move aside for political groups that can.
Wajid Khan is a British Member of the European Parliament, representing the Labour Party.
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author.