Austrian conservatives will back EU motion against Hungary

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian conservatives in the European Parliament will vote in favor of a motion finding that Hungary has persistently breached the European Union’s values, Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said late on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (not pictured) attend a news conference in Skopje, Macedonia September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo

The decision is unusual for Kurz given his close ties to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fellow immigration hard-liner. Kurz has said he hopes to use those ties to build bridges between western EU member states and eastern ones that have clashed over immigration and other issues.

Austria’s five conservatives are a tiny fraction of the two-thirds of votes needed in the 750-seat assembly for the so-called Article 7 procedure to pass. That would set in motion a process that could lead to sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary’s voting rights.

“The Austrian (conservative) lawmakers will vote in favor because we believe that there can be no compromises on the rule of law and democracy and it is therefore important that the accusations that have been made against Hungary are cleared up,” Kurz told ORF television.

Kurz’s People’s Party is in the same conservative bloc in the European Parliament as Orban’s Fidesz. Austria also holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year.

Orban was due to address the European Parliament on Tuesday ahead of a vote on the Article 7 procedure later this week.

His Fidesz party won a parliamentary election last April by a landslide, buoyed by migration policies including a refusal to take any resettled asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa after a wave of arrivals in Europe that began in 2015.

Orban has put pressure on courts, media and non-government groups since he came to power in 2010. Though the EU has often protested, it has largely failed to stop him in what his critics denounce as a growing authoritarian drive.

Kurz, however, appeared to suggest that other Eastern European countries should also face an Article 7 procedure.

“It is ... not only necessary to take a closer look at Hungary but also when we look at the situation in Poland, in Hungary, in Romania, in Slovakia, where there was recently a murder of a journalist, there too it is necessary to look very closely,” he said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg