EPP has ‘lost all credibility’ after Orbán scandal, Verhofstadt says

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE Liberal group at the European Parliament, delivers his speech at the debate on the Conclusions of the European Council meeting of 21 and 22 March 2019 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 27 March 2019. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

The European People’s Party has “lost all credibility and moral authority to lead the EU,” ALDE’s leader Guy Verhofstadt has said following the EPP’s decision to suspend but not expel Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party.

Fidesz has come under fire for alleged breaches of EU rule-of-law principles in addition to a recent press campaign in Hungary that mocked Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Speaking in Strasbourg on Tuesday (26 March), Verhofstadt described the EPP’s Fidesz issue as “a joke” as well as a “cheap political trick.”

“One thing is sure,” Verhofstadt said. “EPP has lost all moral authority to lead the EU.”

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.

Last week, EPP delegates voted to suspend Fidesz’s membership of the party, which will result in the exclusion of Fidesz from attending EPP party meetings, no voting rights or the right to propose candidates for posts.

“Fidesz will have, in this period of time in which we have the suspension on the table, no say in the political future of the EPP,” EPP’s Spitzenkandidat for the 2019 EU elections, Manfred Weber, said after the suspension was announced.

“This decision is a firm and clear decision and it is based on our common ideas about the values of the EPP.”

The EPP has also put down three conditions for Fidesz to abide by, should they wish to retain long-term membership in the party.

Such conditions included the removal of advertising materials used to criticise Juncker and the recognition that Fidesz had caused considerable damaged by this campaign.

However, despite Fidesz being in the crosshairs of the EPP party, the EPP group in the European Parliament has yet to adopt a position on the Hungarian party, who have 12 members sitting in Brussels.

“Members of the group are not necessarily members of the party and vice versa,” Esteban González Pons, EPP’s deputy leader in Parliament, said earlier this week.

“This means we have different ways of making our decisions. If the EPP party comes to a final decision it may have consequences for the group but, I repeat, no final decision has  been made yet about Fidesz members.”

Orbán apologises to EPP leaders he called 'useful idiots'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has apologised to European conservative parties for calling them “useful idiots” over an anti-EU billboard campaign that could see his party ejected from the European Parliament’s dominant centre-right EPP bloc.

Meanwhile, Verhofstad’s ALDE party has been readying itself for the EU elections in May, and rumours have spread about its potential partnership with French President Macron’s “La République en Marche” (LREM).

However, LREM representatives have been keen to quell the rumours, following ALDE’s own recent political scandal, in which it transpired the party had received funding from the Bayer-Monsanto agriculture and chemicals conglomerate, the producer of controversial weedkiller glyphosate.

Following the news, Stephane Sejourne, Macron’s EU election campaign chief, distanced en Marche from the ALDE party.

“None of our European lawmakers will sit in the next legislature within a political group or European political movement which tolerates such financing,” he said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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