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Hungary Orban: Party faces European expulsion vote in Brussels

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Mr Orban’s party may soon leave the powerful EPP bloc led by Manfred Weber (R)

Hungary’s defiance of EU policies will face a new test on Wednesday when the European Parliament’s biggest bloc decides whether to expel the party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

His Fidesz party is part of the centre-right European People’s Party bloc.

For many right-wing, anti-immigration parties, Mr Orban is a hero for regularly castigating Brussels.

Some call him Europe’s Donald Trump, as he sees the EU “threatened” by Muslim migrants, who are kept out of Hungary.

A number of members of the EPP bloc want Fidesz thrown out because of its anti-EU campaigning, and the EPP’s 260 delegates will vote on whether to expel or perhaps suspend Fidesz.

Will Orban’s party be expelled?

This sort of move is drastic by European Parliament standards, and the EPP might still back off.

Thirteen parties in the bloc called for Fidesz to be expelled because of an anti-EU billboard campaign which attacked European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The posters also showed the billionaire US philanthropist George Soros, who is a regular target for Fidesz, which accuses him of encouraging illegal migration to Europe. MrSoros funds civil society groups that help migrants or defend human rights.

Critics see the attacks on Mr Soros – a Jewish survivor of the Nazi Holocaust in Hungary – as anti-Semitic.

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Hungarian government poster: “You too have a right to know what he’s up to in Brussels!”

The problem for the EPP is that losing its Fidesz members would weaken it – just as the EU gears up for European elections in late May.

The EPP is an alliance of about 80 parties, but Fidesz has proven that it can win elections convincingly and it has a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament, making it Hungary’s dominant political force.

Could they patch up the quarrel?

This is not just about some incendiary posters. Mr Orban also dismissed his critics in the EPP as “useful idiots” – a phrase generally attributed to Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, who was referring in the 1920s to naive Western admirers of his brand of socialism.

However, Mr Orban did appear to want to end the row when the EPP’s German leader Manfred Weber visited Budapest last week in search of an apology.

The offending posters along his car’s route were hastily papered over and Mr Orban sent apologetic letters to the 13 parties that had called for Fidesz to be kicked out.

“I would hereby like to express my apologies, if you found my quote personally offensive,” he told Wouter Beke, leader of Belgium’s Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V).

But Mr Beke said he expected more than a personal apology – it was a matter of “respect for European values and better co-operation in guarding the EU’s external borders”. “I see no change there. The CD&V sticks to its position: no place for Fidesz in the EPP.”

And the anti-EU ad campaign was still visible on Hungarian news websites after Mr Weber had gone.

Petteri Orpo of Finland’s conservative Kokoomus party also remained opposed to Mr Orban. “At this point, letters will not help. Fidesz should show its commitment to the EPP by its actions,” he tweeted.

Manfred Weber is a significant figure in the EU and could succeed Mr Juncker as EU Commission chief if the EPP wins the European elections, as it did in 2014.

Among his conditions for remaining in the centre-right group was a demand for the Hungarian leader to allow the Central European University remain in Budapest.

The CEU, founded by George Soros, is seen by Mr Orban as symbol of liberal values and has said it is being forced to move to Vienna after a long-running dispute over academic freedom.

Mr Weber’s plan involves linking the CEU to Munich’s Technical University and to BMW in his home state of Bavaria.

What are the wider issues?

The European elections are seen as an acid test for the EU, which is under fire from nationalists in many of the 28 member states.

Mr Orban claims that Europe is in the midst of an existential struggle to defend “Christian” values. He attacks the liberal consensus underpinning EU institutions, advocating instead a vigorous new Central European powerbase.

The European Parliament has launched a legal procedure against his government which could result in sanctions. EU partners accuse Fidesz of undermining democracy and the rule of law.

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