Austrian far right invites Orban to form joint bloc

Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán (R) give a joint news conference in Vienna, Austria, 30 January 2018. [Szilard Koszticsak/EPA/EFE]

The leader of Austria’s far-right party raised the prospect Monday (10 September) of forming a common bloc in the European Parliament with the party of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

“I gladly invite Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party to work together in future in a common EU bloc!”, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), said on Facebook.

Strache and others in the FPÖ have often imitated Orbán’s strident anti-immigrant rhetoric, but currently the FPÖ sits with other far-right parties in the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group.

Strache’s comments come on the eve of a speech Orbán will make to the European Parliament defending his government’s record against a report outlining a series of “concerns” over the rule of law and human rights in Hungary.

Hesitant MEPs advised to ‘go for a coffee’ during Hungary vote

Next week’s vote in the European Parliament on whether to trigger punitive Article 7 against Hungary will be a moment of truth for the EPP political group, whose behaviour will largely determine its outcome, an influential MEP said on Thursday (6 September).

Later this week MEPs will vote on whether to demand so-called Article 7 proceedings against Hungary, which could ultimately see its EU voting rights suspended — a procedure only launched once before, against Poland last December.

Hungarian NGOs say Article 7 vote is also about alerting other EU members

The European Parliament will vote next week on a proposal to trigger Article 7 against Hungary. Hungarian civil society leaders threw their weight behind the proposal on Wednesday (5 September), saying it was the last chance to defend democracy in Hungary.

Concerns over the erosion of the rule of law and the treatment of migrants have also led to calls for Fidesz to be expelled from the parliament’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) grouping.

Strache’s colleague in Austria’s government, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz — whose centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP) also sits in the EPP — struck a much more critical note towards Orbán on Monday, saying ÖVP MEPs would vote to support starting Article 7 proceedings and would also back the suspension of Fidesz’s EPP membership.

“There is no compromise over the rule of law and democracy. Basic values must be protected,” Kurz told the ORF 2 TV channel in an interview.

The chair of the EPP, Germany’s Manfred Weber, has previously opposed expelling Fidesz but said the party would not get any “favourable treatment” if he succeeds in his bid to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission next year.

“When it’s about basic rights and values, no one in our EPP group gets favourable treatment, including Fidesz,” Weber said last week.

While Orbán’s actions have provoked opposition, they have been applauded by populists elsewhere in the European Union.

Italy’s new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has expressed admiration for Orbán and last month the two men appeared together to launch an anti-immigration manifesto aimed at next year’s European parliamentary elections.

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.

Salvini was also pictured last week meeting US President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, who claims to have had talks with Orbán over forming a pan-European right-wing movement ahead of the 2019 poll.

Bannon to establish Brussels headquarters, targeting EU election

As EURACTIV wrote last March, an ‘agent provocateur’ has entered European politics, and his name is Steve Bannon, former senior advisor to President Donald Trump.

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