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Estonia's MEPs take different views on initiative to strip Hungary of EU voting rights

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban,
Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, Source: SCANPIX / REUTERS

Three of Estonia's seven MEPs have joined an appeal to the governments of 26 member states to strip Hungary of its voting rights.

Meanwhile, two other MEP's did not consider the initiative worthy of support, with the remaining two confirming their support for putting pressure on Hungary in more general terms.

Estonia's MEPs are, in alphabetical order: Andrus Ansip (Reform /Renew Europe), Marina Kaljurand (SDE), Jaak Madison (EKRE), Sven Mikser (SDE), Urmas Paet (Reform /Renew Europe), Riho Terras (Isamaa/EPP) and Jana Toom (Center/Renew Europe).

Riho Terras, Marina Kaljurand and Andrus Ansip were the three who signed the letter, by Finnish MEP Petri Sarvamaa (EPP), calling on the Council of the EU to invoke Article 7 of the EU Treaty - a process that if it succeeded would ultimately lead to the suspension of Hungary's voting rights.

The 120 MEPs who joined in signing the letter accuse Hungary of ignoring the EU's core values, while at the same time they also take note of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's actions in blocking decisions which require unanimity across the EU27.

The appeal states that: "We believe that this is a necessary step towards protecting the values ​​of the EU, as set out in the Treaty on European Union."

"Hungary has been repeatedly criticized for abandoning the principles of the rule of law, and, especially after Hungary's actions in disrupting the decision-making process at the European Council in December, we believe that it is time for the European Parliament to act," the appeal goes on.

In December, Orban blocked a €50 billion four-year EU funding package to Ukraine.

MEPs Terras, Kaljurand and Ansip signed the appeal

Riho Terras, speaking of his decision to sign the appeal, said: "I gave my support to the petition initiated by Petri Sarvamaa. In the present-day security situation, we need to ensure support for Ukraine. We cannot resort to gambling and extortion and that is why I supported the petition."

Riho Terras MEP. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Terras is a former defense forces commander, while his party and its precursors had in the past had some contact with Viktor Orban and his party, Fidesz .

Marina Kaljurand meanwhile said: "I think the proposal to initiate or to revisit the Article 7 process is very right, since in the case of Hungary we're talking about the next presidency of the European Union."

Marina Kaljurand. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Hungary takes on the rotating EU presidency, a post Estonia last held in the second half of 2017, in the latter half of this year.

"So if we want the next president of the EU to still be the bearer European values, then we have to stand up for that," Kaljurand continued.

Andrus Ansip said that he out his signature to the document because he considers drawing the attention of Hungary and Prime Minister Orban to serious shortcomings and violations of the rule of law in their own country, to be an important act.

Andrus Ansip MEP. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"At the same time, I would like to emphasize that the Article 7 process is a legal and not a political instrument. Additionally, the European Commission has acknowledged that Hungary has fulfilled all the requirements and conditions, meaning if proceedings are now initiated against Hungary, the commission must also defend its position in court if necessary," Ansip went on. "The context must be one of legality. At present, it could just be seen as if we just don't like Hungary's actions on various EU votes," he added.

Ansip pointed out that the Article 7 procedure has also been initiated before, in relation to Poland, but that time it did not get very far.

More broadly, Ansip said that in his view, in a situation where one member state does not agree with a given decision, that country should simply be left out, and the 26 remaining member states press on. "The EU has various levels of cooperation, which makes it viable to exclude some countries from those initiatives not amenable to them. It would be reasonable for 26 states to decide among themselves to help Ukraine, and allocate the money intended for this purpose," he added.

Mikser and Ansip doubt the connection between the two topics

Sven Mikser says he also supports putting pressure on the Hungarian government, but again, as Ansip had in effect done, expressed doubt whether the two aspects blamed on Hungary in the letter can be directly linked together.

Mikser said: "While withdrawing from the principles of the rule of law at home, and torpedoing EU unity with regard to aid to Ukraine, are part and parcel of the same pattern of politics, it is remains highly doubtful whether the Orban government's political opposition to aid to Ukraine can be legally connected to adherence to the principles of the rule of law."

Sven Mikser Autor/allikas: ERR

"While the arguments for applying Article 7.2 to Hungary are compelling, its use is politically speaking extremely difficult, so therefore I consider to be more sustainable and with better prospects an approach where the commission and the council do not give in to Hungary's blackmail and do not make concessions to Orban on the observance of the rule of law, and when it comes to aid to Ukraine, instead of focusing on breaking Hungary's break veto, focusing on a solution that leaves Hungary aside and permits the remaining 26 member states to continue supporting Ukraine to the extent required, even without Hungary's participation."

Urmas Paet: Unanimity requirement must be abolished

Urmas Paet told ERR that his starting point is the war in Ukraine being the most serious problem that needs to be resolved in Europe right now, meaning all steps should be aimed at helping Ukraine win this war, and on not aiding Russia. "From this perspective, we also do have to look at what relates to Hungary," the MEP said.

Plus it is understandable if a new procedure is initiated in relation to Hungary, which, among other things, also prevents aid to Ukraine, in blocking the approval of an aid package worth €50 billion, that this will certainly not contribute to helping Ukraine, but will give Hungary another instrument in which it can actually slow down that aid to Ukraine, Paet argued.

Paet reiterated his previously expressed position that in order to prevent situations like these, a change in the voting system should be initiated, one which would exclude blackmail. "The principle of unanimity with regard to EU foreign policy regarding violations of international law and the protection of human rights should be abolished," Paet found.

Urmas Paet Autor/allikas: ERR

Jana Toom: It will have no effect

Jana Toom (Center Party), until recently Yana Toom, said that she did not join with the initiative and presented two arguments as justification for this.

"First of all, this letter has a strong campaign image [ahead of June's elections] and [President of the European Parliament] Roberta Metsola has no option of fulfilling the wish of her colleague Sarvamaa," Tom said.

Yana, now Jana, Toom Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

"The second factor is that on Wednesday, the parliament will discuss the resolution prepared on Hungary, and also vote on this. There is also a clause on the right to vote and, more broadly, the application of the Article 7 procedure to Hungary. a resolution by the legislature carries with it many times more weight than a letter from a group of MEPs."

There are 705 MEPs in the European Parliament, meaning the address was signed by 17 percent of the total.

Toom went on to say that: "This may not affect things in any case; the Council of the EU decides on the Article 7 procedure, and they have not been able to make a decision on Hungary for several years. That won't happen now, either. More so, in the second half of this year, Hungary is to hold the EU presidency, and I don't see a political consensus emerging anywhere to prevent that."

Jaak Madison: Arguing with Hungary harmful

Jaak Madison, too, did not sign the Sarvamaa-initiated address.

"My rationale is that escalating a conflict with one EU and NATO member state at a time when the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two is going on is in no way rational, and diverts attention from the main issue, which is Russia's military activities."

"Moreover, Estonian MEPs should have no interest in stripping voting rights from any member states, since at the next moment, it may be Estonia whose voting rights EU federalists wish to take away, if and when they are not satisfied with Estonia's politics," Madison added.

EKRE MEP Jaak Madison. Source: Meelis Meilbaum

The European Parliament will reportedly discuss the resolution drawn up on Hungary, which also includes a clause concerning its right to vote, on Wednesday and vote on it on Thursday.

Politico reports that Budapest has signaled to the EU that it is ready to lift its opposition to funding Ukraine ― as negotiations continue on sweeteners that would make it easier for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to climb down.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte. Mait Ots

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