The EU Court of Justice has dismissed Hungary's challenge to a decision by the European Parliament to investigate whether Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken moves that undermine European legal standards and democratic values.
Orban, a right-wing nationalist, has repeatedly clashed with EU leaders over his moves to increase state control of the judiciary, media, and academia.
After the European Parliament approved a so-called Article 7 procedure in 2018 against Hungary to probe allegations of a "serious breach" of the 27-member bloc's democratic values, Budapest turned to the courts to dismiss the move on a technicality, saying the vote count "seriously infringed" on rules by leaving out abstentions.
"When calculating the votes cast when that resolution was adopted, the parliament was right to exclude the taking into account of abstentions," the court said in a statement.
Members' "abstentions do not have to be counted in order to determine whether the majority of two-thirds of the votes cast [needed to launch the procedure] has been reached," it added.
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga described the court's decision, which cannot be appealed, as "completely unacceptable and shocking."
"As we all know, abstention means a tacit disagreement," Varga wrote on Facebook. "And still, we are the ones who are held accountable for adhering to common values and rules?"
Earlier this year Hungary, along with Poland, which has faced similar accusations of backsliding on democracy, challenged a new mechanism in the European Union's budget that links payments to rule-of-law conditions.
The countries have vowed to shield each other from any moves against them via the Article 7 procedure, which would suspend their voting rights in the bloc. According to EU rules, 26 of its 27 members must approve any suspension of voting rights.
Orban has also antagonized the bloc through his very close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has spoken up against EU sanctions on Russia. Hungary became the first EU country to use a Russian vaccine for COVID-19.
Budapest and Warsaw threatened to veto the EU's recovery fund last year along with the entire EU budget over proposals to link some fund payments to rule of law conditions, describing it as "political blackmail".