Merkel ally defends authoritarian Hungarian PM who says he has ‘ended liberal democracy’

Manfred Weber says critics should not call Viktor Orban a 'bad European'

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Tuesday 29 May 2018 15:35 BST
Manfred Weber, leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, has warned people not to 'point fingers' at Hungary's PM
Manfred Weber, leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, has warned people not to 'point fingers' at Hungary's PM (EbS)

Angela Merkel’s top ally in Brussels has leapt to the defence of Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, after the controversial leader claimed that the era of “liberal democracy” was over.

Nationalist Viktor Orban kicked off his third term as prime minister by claiming his party had replaced “shipwrecked” liberal democracy with a “21st-century Christian democracy” that “supports the traditional family model of one man and one woman”.

Mr Orban has rolled back human rights and launched new legislation to crackdown on NGOs, universities and charities. His government has also been accused of running a state-backed campaign of antisemitism against US businessman George Soros, whom the PM regularly accuses of meddling in the country.

Asked about the right-wing leader’s latest comments at a press conference at the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, the German leader of the European People’s Party group, warned people not to “point fingers” at Mr Orban and claim that “he’s not a good European”.

“In Europe of course the terms that we use when we discuss things are incredibly important,” he told reporters, addressing the comments about liberal democracy.

“They have different meanings and different backgrounds depending on where people come from. If you look at the migration debate, from where I come from often we’re talking about refugees.

“But if you look at Prague, Bratislava, or Budapest, often the debate is more focused elsewhere. They’re talking about illegal migration instead. It’s for that reason that I think what’s most important is for us to talk to one another and deal with one another. That’s true when it comes to this issue of definitions as well.

People attend a protest against the Hungarian government in Budapest on 14 April (Reuters)

“I think there are enough opportunities to move forward here. However I think we need to move forward in respect for one another and respect for our common values. I think there should be absolutely no movement on that.”

Mr Weber is a member of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party at a national level in Germany, which sits with Mr Orban’s Fidesz party in the European People’s Party at an EU level.

The defence of Mr Orban is the latest example of the EPP, which is the largest political group in the European Parliament and the home group of Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, shielding Mr Orban’s regime from criticism.

Last year over 1,500 petitioned the EPP to kick out Mr Orban’s party on the basis that it “denies all the values that this group stands for”, but no action was taken.

Some of the party’s MEPs have also in the past openly criticised Mr Orban and called for his party to be suspended from the group.

Amnesty International has said a new law being pushed through by the Hungarian government to “muzzle” NGOs working with migrants, poses an “existential threat” to civil society and critics of the ruling party.

The proposed new law requires charities to pay a tax of 25 per cent of any foreign funding aimed at supporting refugees and migrants. Those targeted can be subjected to exorbitant fines, bankruptcy and dissolution.

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