The European Union parliament will vote on Wednesday whether to punish Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for undercutting democracy and breaching "common values of the EU", including pushing the passage of anti-immigrant laws.
If the so-called "Article 7" of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered, it would set in motion a process that could lead to sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the EU, and put the bloc on a collision course with Orban, who on Tuesday vowed to defy the vote.
"Whatever your decision will be, Hungary will not accede to this blackmail. Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration, and defend its rights," Orban told the European parliament.
"Hungary is going to be condemned because Hungarian people have decided that this country is not going to be a country of migrants."
Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty was designed to dissuade EU member states from reverting to values Europe considers anti-democratic. The treaty, which was ratified by all 27-member states and came into force in 2009, governs the European Union following its expansion.
It is expected a majority of the 750-member legislative body will vote against Hungary. But it is still unclear if the required two-thirds majority threshold to enforce the motion will come to fruition.
The European Council - which comprises all heads of the 27-member states including Hungary - is then required to act "by unanimity" to determine the "existence of a serious and persistent breach" by a member state, and carry out sanctions.
Hungary has been in the crosshairs of the European Union after Orban put pressure on courts, media and non-government groups since coming to power in 2010.
|Migrants prepare food at a makeshift camp on the Serbia-Hungary border in 2017 [File: Reuters]|
Though the EU has often protested, it has largely failed to stop what Orban's critics decry as his growing authoritarian drive.
Orban's refusal to accept some of the Mediterranean arrivals overwhelming coastal states such as Italy has upset many of his EU peers, including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
"Do you really believe that any country ... can survive on its own without help, without the solidarity and cooperation of other countries?" he told the legislators.
"There can be no future for Europe like that."
In June, Hungary's parliament overwhelmingly passed a law imposing jail terms on anybody seen to be aiding undocumented immigrants.
The law targets rights groups and NGOs and allows the banning of organisations.
In addition to the bill, the parliament also passed a constitutional amendment stating an "alien population" cannot be settled in Hungary.
Aside from its anti-immigrant stance, Orban's government is also accused of silencing independent media and academia, removing independent judges, cracking down on organisations helping homeless people, migrants or disadvantaged groups, such as Roma, and condoning government corruption.
At a time of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, the impending vote against Orban's government has sharply divided the bloc.
|Greece, which is one of the main entry points for migrants, has criticised Hungary for refusing to accept refugees [File: AP]|
Italy's anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party has six legislators in the European body, said: "We will vote in defence of Orban."
Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, which stands accused of dismantling an independent judiciary at home, will also defend Hungary's prime minister.
But Orban's fellow migration hardliner, Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, surprised many by announcing plans to vote against Budapest.
"We believe that there can be no compromises on the rule of law and democracy," Kurz told ORF television.
The commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, has repeatedly clashed with Orban's government especially after Budapest refused to admit asylum seekers under an EU scheme launched at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.
Judith Sargentini, an EU parliamentarian from the Netherlands who spearheaded the vote, said the time had come to make an "important choice".
"Will you let it happen that a government ... violates the values on which this union was built without consequences? Or will you ensure that the values of this union are more than just words written on a piece of a paper?" she said.
Hungary argues its anti-immigrant measures and defence of sovereign rights are in tune with the mood of European voters, who will elect a new parliament in Strasbourg next May.