Hungarian far-right leader Viktor Orban's party Fidesz suspended from main EU conservative group

Party had threatened to quit the group if it was suspended

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 20 March 2019 18:50
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The Hungarian prime minister
The Hungarian prime minister

The party of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has been suspended from the main EU conservative group following years of criticism over extreme policy positions.

The European People’s Party (EPP), which has parties such as Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats among its members and dominates the EU institutions, voted by 190 in favour to three votes against to suspend Fidesz at a meeting in Brussels.

Joseph Daul, the EPP’s president, said: “Fidesz will be suspended with immediate effect and until further notice following today’s vote of EPP members.”

The suspension means Mr Orban will be barred from key pre-summit meetings with other EPP leaders, be given no voting rights on its positions, and will have no right to propose candidates for posts – such as the EPP’s candidate for the European Commission presidency, and internal EPP roles.

The EPP, which is also the home party for Brussels chiefs such as Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, stopped short of expelling Fidesz, as some of its member parties had campaigned for, however.

The Hungarian government has been engaged in running political battles with Brussels over alleged breaches of the rule of law, and has been accused of running antisemitic and Islamophobic campaigns against refugees and US philanthropist George Soros.

Earlier in the day, European Commission president Mr Juncker himself had repeated his call for the Hungarian party to be kicked out of the alliance, telling German radio: “I think that Mr Orban is a long way from basic Christian Democratic values.”

Hungary’s government earlier this year was forced to back down over a poster campaign that targeted Mr Juncker in a negative light. It changed the focus of the campaign to Mr Juncker’s social democratic centre-left counterparty politician Frans Timmermans after criticism.

The suspension was also endorsed by Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate for May’s European Parliament elections.

Mr Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told state news agency MTI on Wednesday that Fidesz would immediately quit the EPP if it was suspended, saying: “It is about the dignity of Fidesz and the country.”

If Fidesz does leave the EPP, such a move would spark speculation about a potential new far-right alliance in EU politics – with other figures such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini potentially keen to team up with Mr Orban.

Theresa May’s Conservative Party, which sits in a different political group to Mr Orban’s party, was criticised last year after Tory MEPs voted against triggering political sanctions against Mr Orban’s government. The decision, which attracted criticism from Jewish and Muslim groups, saw the Tories isolated among most western European conservatives parties, who mostly backed the move.

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