The mood at the European Parliament in Strasbourg turned volatile on Tuesday when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, during a tense debate on issues including his country's rule of law, accused European representatives of insulting Hungary.
Under Article 7 of the European Union treaty, breaching the bloc's founding principles can lead to the suspension of a member state's rights as a punitive measure.
The report under consideration criticises his government's restrictions on the freedom of the media, academics and NGOs, its ill treatment of minority groups, refugees and asylum seekers, and its meddling with the judicial and electoral systems.
The Hungarian foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, called the vote "petty revenge" against his country's tough anti-migration policies.
MEPs backed the vote by 448 to 197, giving it the two-thirds required for proceedings to go ahead.
"The Sargentini report was not adopted today, because only by violating voting rules was it possible to reach the necessary two-thirds majority laid out in the treaty", Szajer said, arguing that if they had included abstentions, the two-thirds majority would not have been achieved.
Szijjarto said Hungary was considering legal options to appeal the result because of the way the vote was tallied.
The European Parliament will hold a plenary debate on Tuesday about a report drafted by Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini.
"Do you think you know better what the Hungarian people want", Orban said, explaining that Hungarian decisions are taken by voters in the legislative elections.
ANDREW YATES via Getty Images Brexiteer Daniel Hannan is thought to be among those who voted against the motion
Hungarian leader Victor Orban has been called a "neo-fascist" who threatens to destroy the European project, in angry scenes at Europe's Parliament.
The Commission has preferred to pressure Budapest through standard legal powers, but the head of the European Union executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, also an EPP member, said he would have voted for the move if he were a lawmaker.
"I reject that the European Parliament's forces supporting immigration and migrants threaten, blackmail and with untrue accusations defame Hungary and the Hungarian people", he said during a feisty speech.
Previous year the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, launched similar steps under article seven against Poland over its alleged threat to the independence of the courts.
The report said Orban's government had sought to increase its influence over judges and courts, was suppressing dissenting voices including in the media, and was responsible for widespread fraud and corruption in public projects.
"Whatever your decision will be, Hungary will not accede to this blackmail", an angry Orban told the lawmakers, whom he alleged had already made up their mind to activate article seven of the European Union treaty and seek measures to restrict his government's voting rights.
They form the biggest faction in the European Parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), where lawmakers with German Chancellor Angela Merkel also sit.
In June, Hungary's parliament overwhelmingly passed a law imposing jail terms for anybody seen to be aiding undocumented immigrants.
It will also be a test for Merkel ally and EPP head Manfred Weber, who announced his bid to become the new head of the bloc's executive European Commission next year.
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