Hungary’s ruling party doesn’t belong in EPP, says Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker in Stuttgart, on 19 February 2019. [Europe by Satellite]

The party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán should leave the mainstream European center-right grouping, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, comparing Orbán to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The unusually sharp comments, made at a public meeting on Tuesday (19 February) in Stuttgart, Germany, came after the Hungarian government unveiled a new poster campaign accusing Juncker and philanthropist George Soros of wanting to flood Hungary with migrants.

“Against lies there’s not much you can do,” Juncker replied, adding that Manfred Weber, the European Peoples Party’s lead candidate for the upcoming European elections, would certainly be asking himself “if I need this voice” in the EPP.

Calls have been growing for Orbán’s nationalist Fidesz party to be expelled from the EPP, which groups Christian Democratic and center-right parties in the European Parliament, because of Fidesz’s stridently anti-immigration campaigns.

Fidesz’s domestic strength, however, means it has a large delegation in the European legislature, and its removal from the EPP umbrella could erode the center-right’s current dominance of the Strasbourg parliament.

Juncker, previously the longtime center-right prime minister of Luxembourg, said he had called for Fidesz’s exclusion from the EPP.

“They didn’t vote for me in the European Parliament,” he said. “The far right didn’t either. I remember Ms. Le Pen, she said ‘I’m not voting for you.’ I said: ‘I don’t want your vote.’ There are certain votes you just don’t want.”

Poster campaign

Hungary launched a new anti-immigration media campaign on Tuesday in which it accused US philanthropist George Soros and Juncker of allegedly supporting illegal migration, but which Brussels immediately dismissed as “fake news”.

According to the Hungarian government’s Facebook page, the media blitz — funded with taxpayers’ money — is expected to include billboard posters featuring images of the liberal billionaire Soros and a smiling Juncker above the words: “You too have a right to know what Brussels is preparing”.

“They want to bring in the mandatory settlement quota; weaken member states’ rights to border defence; facilitate immigration with a migrant visa,” it continues.

The campaign provoked a furious reaction from prominent EU politicians, including Joseph Daul, president of the European People’s Party (EPP) grouping which includes both Juncker and right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party.

In a series of tweets, Daul condemned the campaign, calling its claims “deceitful, misleading and… not based on facts”.

Daul denounced Hungary’s attacks on Juncker and defended him as a “true Christian Democrat and a real European leader”.

He went on to remind Hungary that “decisions in Brussels, including on migration, are taken collectively by EU governments” and the European Parliament, both of which include Hungarian representatives.

Manfred Weber, the leader of EPP in the European Parliament and Spitzenkandidat of his force to replace Juncker, retweeted Daul.

The presence of Fidesz within the EPP has long been a source of controversy but there have been no official moves by any of the other centre-right parties in the grouping to expel it.

EPP unsure about retaining or expelling Orbán’s party

The European Parliament’s vote to censure Hungary presents the assembly’s dominant centre-right bloc with a dilemma over whether to retain its populist Hungarian allies or expel them months before elections.

Orbán’s government, which has frequently clashed with the EU on migration, has regularly undertaken similar campaigns in the past, including “Let’s Stop Brussels” and “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.”

In recent years, Orbán has blasted the Hungarian-born Soros, 88, as a “public enemy” for allegedly backing uncontrolled mass immigration.

At the same time, Orbán’s government has frequently been accused of using anti-Semitic tropes and imagery in its campaigns against Soros, claims it denies.

In recent months, pro-Orbán media have also attacked Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini — the author of a critical report about Hungary that formed the basis of EU legal action against Budapest — and Juncker’s deputy Frans Timmermans.

Hungary takes aim at ‘Soros man’ Timmermans

Hungary will not take part in this week’s European Parliament debate on the rule of law in the country, a government spokesperson said on Monday (28 January) and insisted that Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who deals with this issue, should be suspended in the run-up to the European elections.

“Brussels continues to want to support illegal immigration,” Zoltán Kovács, a government spokesman, told reporters in Budapest on Tuesday.

“Hungarians need to know about this, that’s why the latest information campaign has been launched,” he said, denying it is part of the upcoming European Parliament election campaign.

Kovács said plans in “drawers in Brussels” included hikes in financial funding of NGOs and the creation of a special migration fund.

EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas dismissed the campaign as “fake news”.

“The Hungary government campaign beggars belief,” he told a briefing in Brussels.

“It is shocking that such a ludicrous conspiracy theory has reached the mainstream to the extent it has. There is no conspiracy. Hungarians deserve facts, not fiction,” he said.

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