Orban says Salvini is the most important politician in Europe

File photo. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (R) with Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban (L), attend a press conference after their meeting at the Prefecture of Milan, Italy, 28 August 2018. [Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA/EFE]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said the European Parliament’s main centre-right group must forge an alliance with populist, nationalist groups after impending EU elections, receiving a swift rebuke from Germany’s conservative leader.

Orbán’s ruling Fidesz Party was suspended from the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP) in March over its record on respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and minorities’ rights.

EPP votes to suspend Hungary's Fidesz party membership

The European People’s Party (EPP) suspended Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party over alleged violations of EU rule-of-law principles on Wednesday (20 March), in a compromise solution that allowed the EPP to keep its ‘bad boy’ in and bolster party unity ahead of the European elections.

Orbán has denied violating any EU principles and said he wants to remain part of the EPP. But in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa published on Wednesday (1 May), he said the group had to drop its aversion to the far right.

“The EPP is preparing to commit suicide and wants to tie itself to the left,” Orbán said.

He also said that Salvini was the most important person in Europe today.

Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s far-right League, is trying to put together a Europe-wide alliance of nationalist, anti-immigration parties.

Orbán alluded to this, saying: “We need to find another path through cooperation with Europe’s right wing.”

Salvini and Orbán launch anti-immigration manifesto ahead of EU elections

Hungary’s illiberal Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini launched Tuesday (28 August) an anti-migration manifesto aiming at next year’s European parliament elections, targeting a common enemy.

But German conservative leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, was dismissive.

“If Orbán chooses to move further away from the EPP, there is no way back to the EPP for him and Fidesz,” she said. “Since the suspension in March, Orbán and Fidesz no longer have any influence on EPP policy.”

Voters in the 28-nation EU vote this month to elect a new European Parliament.

The EPP is expected to win the biggest share of seats but fall short of a majority, meaning it will need to ally itself with other groups to control the chamber and shape the EU in the next five years.

EPP leader Manfred Weber has made clear he would prefer to hooking up with pro-European Socialists and Liberals rather than the eurosceptic, sovereigntist forces drawn to Salvini’s flag.

“The nationalists will be our enemies,” Weber said as he launched his EU election campaign last month.

Salvini, who is Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, is eager to win Orbán over to his cause and is due to meet him in Budapest on Thursday.

Orbán has shown no sign of wanting to leave the EPP, which gives him mainstream respectability and influence that other European populists lack.

But he heaped praise on Salvini and applauded him for having drastically reduced the flow of migrants looking to leave Libya and reach Europe over the past year.

“For this, I think Salvini is the most important person in Europe today,” he said.

The Brief, powered by EUROBAT – Orban could do the EU a big favour

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is splitting the EPP. But by doing so, he could actually save Europe from a nightmare scenario: the centre-right and the far-right forging a Eurosceptic majority coalition in the next European Parliament.

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