BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has voted in favor of launching disciplinary proceedings against Hungary for allegedly undermining the European Union's democratic values and the rule of law.
The September 12 vote marks the first time that the European Parliament has invoked the so-called Article 7 procedure against an EU member state, a process that can lead to a country losing its voting rights in the bloc's council.
Hungary condemned the decision to set a punitive procedure in motion, dismissing it as the "petty revenge" of pro-immigration politicians and vowing a challenge.
A two-thirds majority of those present was required for a European Parliament vote in favor of disciplinary proceedings, and legislators cleared this threshold with a 448 to 197 vote.
The outcome of the vote depended substantially on the center-right European People's Party (EPP), the dominant group in the legislature, of which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party is a member.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his country would seek legal ways to challenge the ruling, suggesting it was unfair that abstaining votes were not counted.
"Today's European Parliament decision was nothing but the petty revenge of pro-immigration politicians against Hungary," Szijjarto said. "The decision was made in a fraudulent way, and contrary to relevant rules in European treaties."
The basis of the vote was a report by Dutch lawmaker Judith Sargentini, which said the Hungarian government's actions involving the media, minorities, and the rule of law presented a "clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values.
In a debate on the report on September 11, Orban accused the European Parliament of attempting to "blackmail" Budapest and added that it "insults Hungary and insults the honor of the Hungarian nation."
The European Commission launched similar infringement procedures against Poland in December 2017.
But the measures are unlikely to result in the punishment of Poland or Hungary, as unanimity is required among the bloc’s 28 member states to strip a country of its voting rights and Budapest and Warsaw are pledging to support each other.
Poland said it would not impose any sanctions imposed by the bloc on fellow member Hungary.
"Every country has its sovereign right to make internal reforms it deems appropriate," Poland's Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued later on September 12.
"Actions aimed against member states serve only deepening divides in the EU, increasing citizens' current lack of confidence to European institutions," the statement added.
Joanna Kopcinska, a spokeswoman for Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, told AFP that the move "threatens" EU unity and "sows unnecessary divisions."
"We are in solidarity with the Hungarian people, who gave the Viktor Orban government a very clear democratic mandate in recent elections," she added.