The European Parliament on Wednesday (12 September) voted overwhelmingly to trigger a sanctions procedure against Hungary over prime minister Viktor Orban's challenge to EU rules and values on media freedom, migration and rule of law dating back several years.
The vote takes the first steps under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, known by some in Brussels as the "nuclear option", which could ultimately strip Hungary of its EU voting rights. Szijjarto slammed the debate and the vote as a "show trial", arguing that Sargentini had compiled it without ever arranging a delegation visit to Hungary.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wasted little time in slamming the vote as "nothing less than the petty revenge of pro-immigration politicians".
Orban, who has been elected four times and now presides over what is effectively a one-party state, has been a thorn in the side of European Union leaders since he came back to office in 2010.
In the unprecedented move, 448 MEPs voted in favour of launching the so-called "Article 7" procedure, 197 against and with 48 abstentions, the EP referred Hungary to the other member states to check the health of the country's democracy. He also decried the omission of abstentions in the final tally which helped attain the needed majority in the vote.
"Viktor Orban's government has been leading the charge against European values by silencing independent media, replacing critical judges, and putting academia on a leash", Ms Sargentini said.
Judith Sargentini, the Dutch Green MEP who led the vote, lauded the move as a positive sign from the European parliament, a demand of accountability against an assault on European values by Hungary.
Vaatz said he "deeply regretted" the EP's decision to approve the report criticising the state of the rule of law in Hungary, as well as the fact that a number of MEPs from his own party "took part in the operation to punish Hungary". "The Hungarian people deserve better".
The vote was based on a report that voiced concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, religious freedom, and the rights of minorities and refugees.
"I have always been in favour of building bridges and I want to continue to do so but yesterday I didn't see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his European Union partners and address our concerns", he said on Twitter.
Orban, who was re-elected in April to his third consecutive term in office, fourth overall also said Tuesday that he expected lawmakers to approve the motion with the support of some EPP lawmakers. The report accuses the Hungarian government of eroding democracy and failing to uphold fundamental European Union values.
His refusal to budge this time cost him support in the EPP conservative grouping, which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, who have criticised some of Orban's policies.
Orban characterised Wednesday's vote as a bid to weaken Hungary's position as a "symbol of resistance against migration".