Hungary’s government announced Saturday (2 March) that it would end a controversial poster campaign accusing US philanthropist George Soros and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker of supporting illegal migration.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said on Twitter that “the information campaign” would end on 15 March, as had been planned.
Earlier this week the European Commission issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the claims made in the campaign, calling them “at worst downright factually incorrect, or at best highly misleading”.
The campaign has also outraged other parties in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) grouping that Fidesz sits with in Brussels — and from which Juncker also hails.
Kovács’ message was posted in response to an interview given to the German Der Spiegel magazine by Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate for May’s European elections.
In it Weber said the poster campaign had “damaged” the EPP.
Weber gives Orbán chance to apologise
“For this reason I expect him (Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán) to apologise and stop this action,” Weber said.
A critical number of at least seven national parties within the EPP have indicated that they would support Fidesz’s expulsion from the grouping and put a motion on the agenda of a meeting on 20 March.
However, in his tweets Saturday, Kovács said that “the Hungarian government is prepared to listen to any criticism, but the decision of the Hungarian people is more important to us than party discipline”.
In an interview published late-Saturday on the German weekly Welt am Sonntag’s website, Orbán indicated that the Juncker posters would be replaced after 15 March by new ones displaying European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans alongside Soros.
"Christian democracy is illiberal". A defiant Orban defends Juncker/Soros campaign, announces @akk meeting in March, calls his EPP opponents "useful idiots", compliments @ManfredWeber & vows to exchange Juncker image with Timmermanns in anti-EU campaign.https://t.co/njOVM5X1CA pic.twitter.com/0eqyknruEn
— Thorsten Benner (@thorstenbenner) March 3, 2019
“Soros’ role in European politics cannot be ignored and everyone has the right to know that Timmermans is openly his ally,” he told the newspaper.
“In the next phase of the election campaign… you will see another actor on the posters: Mr Timmermans,” he said.
Orban will replace the posters attacking Juncker with posters against Timmermans. Will the @EPP return to silent mode because it’s no longer one of their own under attack?Just as they were silent when Budapest was littered with posters against me & @judithineuropa? pic.twitter.com/O0vfcOgzT9
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) March 3, 2019
The remarks followed accusations made by Orbán during a speech last month that the Dutch politician who heads the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) list for the May election was “pro-immigration” and “Soros’s candidate” to succeed Juncker.
Asked about the efforts to expel Fidesz from the EPP, Orbán said that “in reality the attack is coming from the left, not to weaken us but to weaken the EPP”.
Describing his critics within the EPP as “naive” he accused them of “serving the interests of others, namely those of our opponents”.
In his interview, Orban described his EPP critics as “useful idiots”.
Orbán calls his @epp critics ‘useful idiots’. That will surely please the seven EPP parties that are now opposing him. His inflammatory letter to all Hungarian citizens filled with lies and distortions is far worse than just having Juncker on the posters. https://t.co/MAr6Prk9hK
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) March 2, 2019
Belgian politician Benoît Lutgen from the EPP-affiliated CDH, one of the seven parties asking for the expulsion of Fidesz, twitted, quoting author and satirist Georges Courteline: “To be treated as idiot by a fool is a culinary delight”.