The head of the European Parliament’s dominant centre-right bloc met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Tuesday (12 March), again calling for the populist leader to apologise for an anti-EU billboard campaign.
Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party visited Budapest to discuss a rift with Orbán’s Fidesz party that has become an issue for the EPP ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
“We had talks in a constructive atmosphere, but problems are not yet solved,” Weber told reporters.
Weber is the EPP’s leading candidate to take over as president of the European Commission later this year, but his campaign has been overshadowed by Orbán’s strident attacks on the Commission’s current head Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as on the European institutions themselves.
The EPP, and Weber, have faced mounting calls to expel Orbán from the group, with many arguing his authoritarian tendencies run counter to European values.
Last week Weber set Orbán an ultimatum if he wanted Fidesz to avoid being expelled from the group.
He called on Orbán to stop his government’s anti-EU campaign, let the CEU university founded by the liberal US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros stay in Budapest, and apologise to other member parties of the EPP.
“The EPP has clear fundamental values and these are not negligible for us,” Weber said on Tuesday.
“They have to be respected by all EPP party members and also by Fidesz.”
Weber also singled out a campaign in Hungary targeting Juncker — an EPP member — accusing him of backing illegal migration alongside with Soros.
“We don’t allow any further any anti-Brussels, anti-EU posters and campaigning here in Budapest, the posters must be replaced,” Weber said.
Some posters in Budapest featuring Juncker were covered for Weber’s visit, apparently only in the direction in which he could see them. Other posters remained uncovered.
— Katalin Halmai (@eublogo) March 12, 2019
“It would be a good way to work together if Viktor Orbán would apologise for the burden and the problems he was creating for other EPP parties and countries.”
Some anti-Juncker posters removed in Budapest today. But only those facing @ManfredWeber on his way from airport to meeting w #ViktorOrban. Look at the pic closely! Posters still up on other side. Like, after meeting, who cares? @zoltanspox, pls be more thorough! pic.twitter.com/4d1oRCL9zQ
— Roland Freudenstein (@RoFreudenstein) March 12, 2019
After 15 March, the Hungarian authorities said they will replace Juncker in the poster campaign with Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans.
A dozen EPP parties have called for Fidesz to be kicked out, a topic which will be discussed by members at a meeting on 20 March.
Orbán said on Friday that Fidesz could opt to leave the EPP and seek to join up with Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party in the European Parliament.