The Article 7 procedure was designed to deter member states from advancing policies that threaten democratic institutions. The European Commission has triggered it after Poland enacted controversial judicial reforms.
Article 7 is a mechanism of the Lisbon Treaty that ensures "all EU countries respect the common values of the EU." It was envisaged as a way to mitigate and prevent member states from backsliding on European values and the rule law, with a nod to the bloc's youngest democracies.
Although some member states, including Hungary, have come awfully close to having sanctions imposed upon them, Article 7 has never been triggered since it came into force in the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam until Wednesday.
Read more: Poland: How feasible is a 'Polexit'?
How does Article 7 work?
The Article 7 process itself is a two-phased procedure.
First: A proposal to trigger Article 7 can be brought forward by the European Parliament, the European Commission or by one-third of member states.
Then, a four-fifths majority of member states in the EU Council must then determine that state in question is in clear breach of EU values in order to adopt the proposal. In Poland's case, this would prevent member states, say its allies in the Visegard Group, to halt the process. The proposal must also have the backing of the European Parliament.
Second: The next phase sees the Council give a formal warning and table recommendations to the country in question. Once it issues its response, member states must decide unanimously launch sanctions and suspend voting rights. This is where the execution of Article 7 and its consequences may stall.
Hungary and Austria in the cross-hairs
Although the EU triggered Article 7 for the first time on Tuesday in response to Poland's controversial judicial reforms, it came close in two other instances. The European Parliament's Liberal group had drafted a proposal against Hungary back in 2015 only for it to be rejected by the Parliament.
However, in May, a motion tabled by the Parliament's left-leaning parties calling once again to invoke Article 7 against Hungary did pass. The resolution called for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to repeal laws tightening rules against asylum seekers and non-governmental organizations and to allow the Central European University to remain open in Budapest.