Alfred Sant does not vote on Hungary censure: ‘MEPs’ methods with Malta were crassly biased’

Labour MEP Alfred Sant said that while recognising Viktor Orban’s illiberal bent, MEPs’ procedures to pass judgement on governments were not transparent or fair

Sant said he did not want his abstention on Orban’s Hungary to give the impression that this fundamental flaw is non-problematic
Sant said he did not want his abstention on Orban’s Hungary to give the impression that this fundamental flaw is non-problematic

Former Prime Minister and Maltese MEP Alfred Sant refused to vote on a censure motion against Hungary for undermining the European Union’s core values, drawing parallels with the Maltese experience of the last year.

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted to start punitive action against Hungary for flouting the rule of law after a motion was passed on Wednesday with a considerable majority.

There were 448 votes in favour of triggering Article 7, with 197 votes against and 48 abstentions. All other Maltese MEPs - David Casa, Roberta Metsola, Francis Zammit Dimech (PN - EPP) and Miriam Dalli and Marlene Mizzi (PL - S&D) - voted in favour of the report by Judith Sargentini.

The motion was the first time ever the European legislature triggered the procedure against an EU member state. The same procedure was launched by the European Commission against Poland in December 2017.

The censure motion accuses Hungary of persistently breaching core EU values. It theoretically opens the way for sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the EU - but in practice that is sure to be blocked by Hungary's ally, the nationalist government in Poland.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had told the European Parliament on Tuesday he would not bow to EU "blackmail".

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban has pressured Hungary's courts, media and non-governmental groups, as well as refusing to take in asylum seekers arriving in Europe. Though the European Union has often protested, it has largely failed to stop what his critics decry as his growing authoritarianism.

But Alfred Sant told the European Parliament that the politicised manner by which the European Parliament investigates governance issue “nullified” the credibility and legitimacy of such investigations and that similar investigations on Malta were “crassly biased and Maltese NGOs chosen in a partisan and one-sided way.”

Sant however said he did not want his non-vote to give the impression that this fundamental flaw is non-problematic.

Sant said that he disagreed with a number of the policies followed by the Hungarian government for their illiberal and authoritarian orientation.

“However I do not believe that the procedures adopted in this House to consider and pass judgement on governmental decision-making in our member states are objective, transparent or fair.

“I say so from personal knowledge of how such procedures are being applied in the case of my country, Malta, where the methods and approaches being followed by members of this Parliament to examine governance issues, are crassly biased. This has happened to the extent that when so-called NGOs are consulted about the situation in the country, they are chosen in a partisan and one sided way.”

The Maltese MEP said that if such approaches are adopted with regard to a given country, it cannot be excluded that they are also followed in other instances.